Opinion

Olmert and Netanyahu Are So Much Alike

Their corruption affairs, and mostly the way in which they chose to deal with them, teach us that they are much more alike than both of them would care to admit

Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert, 2009.
Daniel Bar On / Gini

On a superficial level they are completely different: One is a gregarious person who likes a good time, and surrounds himself with friends at the most difficult moments. The other is an inflexible and isolated man.

One is a Likudnik who was so ideologicaly flexible that he even offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas almost everything. The other is a right winger whose disgust for and lack of faith in the Palestinians only increases over time. One resigned before he was indicted; the other can’t even imagine taking such a step — and it’s doubtful whether he will resign even after he is indicted.

Yet, this is not the full picture. Their corruption affairs, and mostly the way in which they chose to deal with them, teach us that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are much more alike than both of them would care to admit.

First, of course, is their shared fondness for those with wealth and the good life. Long before Netanyahu began living at the expense of Arnon Milchan, Olmert knew how to receive loans that he never got around to paying back. James Packer pampered Yair Netanyahu because they were friends? About as much as businessmen bought the paintings of Aliza Olmert at impressive prices because they were connoisseurs of art.

In a television interview with journalist Gil Riva, Olmert lit up a cigar — a habit that brings to mind Netanyahu — but Olmert is quick to point out the difference: Olmert says that he bought the cigars out of his own pocket and never asked for gifts from anyone. The numerous tycoons and businessmen who supplied him with expensive pens, which prosecutors estimated to be worth over 1 million shekels ($290,000), did so it seems against his wishes.

The statement: “An organized witch-hunt is being conducted here. A brutal, vicious, witch-hunt of the type that has never taken place in Israel A planned and organized campaign that cannot continue” may sound like just another post from Netanyahu playing the victim– but all the rights to this quote actually belong to none other than Olmert.

The “there will be [police] recommendations, so what?” of Netanyahu’s is nothing more than a mirror image of the “police recommendations have no importance” of Olmert’s lawyers at the time. These same lawyers demanded to investigate the tendentious police leaks of the investigations — just as Netanyahu’s lawyers have.

The two have a very similar opinion of the police, it turns out: Netanyahu’s loyal servant, MK and Likud whip David Amsalem, made it clear that the entire story is “police public relations,” while Olmert’s spokesman said: “The police’s only goal is to make headlines and public relations for itself.”

Olmert and Netanyahu can swap experiences in the way they both dealt with the office of the state comptroller, too. “Liars” and “headline hunters” they called them. Netanyahu will tell about State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, whose report on the relationship between Netanyahu and Bezeq (which turned into a police investigation) was nothing but “more fake news, another fruitless attempt to create an affair out of nothing, against the prime minister.”

Olmert will lament the former comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, whose report on Olmert and the Investment Center (which led to his conviction for breach of trust) proved the comptroller was “biased” and “ratings considerations are what determines his actions.”

The great similarity in the way both describe the authorities that oversee and enforce the law — even though we are talking about completely different periods, stories and protagonists — is the unimpeachable evidence of the absurdity of their claims.

These two are of course not identical. Maybe after seeing Olmert’s bitter fate, maybe under the inspiration of the guru in the White House, Netanyahu is raising the volume even more and is also lashing out in his own voice rather than just making do with spokespeople and messengers. But the message is the same message and the lie is the same lie.

It’s a shame that both of them managed to cultivate fanatic devotees in the press who bought their versions that are so full of holes, and spread them, and are even clashing with one another — each in the service of their respective masters — without noticing that they and their masters are in fact so very much the same.

Itay Rom is a journalist for Channel 10 News.