With a Request Like That, All Israel Is in Trouble

What has happened to us if former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert doesn’t fear ridicule after requesting that his criminal record be expunged?

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Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaking in Tel Aviv, February 7, 2018.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaking in Tel Aviv, February 7, 2018.Credit: Meged Gozani
Dan Margalit
Dan Margalit

You need the arrogance, chutzpah and egoism of the kind found in former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to ask President Reuven Rivlin to wipe clean your criminal record. After all, 11 judges found him guilty of accepting bribes, obstruction of justice, fraud and breach of trust. Even the Supreme Court justices, who granted Olmert’s appeal in part, sent him to prison for two years and four months, and in the end he served 16 months.

Olmert boasted about the charges he was acquitted of, but here too this wasn’t done on the high road but by relying on minuscule doubt. He was saved from conviction for the money he gave Shmuel Dechner for his brother Yossi Olmert by the casuistry of Justice Neal Hendel.

We have to hope that with his integrity, Rivlin will reject the request as soon as it lands on his desk. We also have to hope that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – an adherent of the school of Prof. Daniel Friedmann, the justice minister from 2007 to 2009 who constantly found the benefit of the doubt for Olmert and harshly criticized his accusers – won’t become captive to her tendency to side with the defense. (Is it any surprise that in his new Hebrew-language memoir, Olmert described his appointment of Friedmann as his wisest move in forming his government?)

It’s said that among Rivlin’s associates too there are advocates of dishonesty, people who might urge him to accede to Olmert’s request. I hope he’ll know how to reject the motion without any buts or maybes.

If the request is granted, God forbid, it would be a resounding slap in the face of the long list of enlightened people who serve in the judiciary and the public arena and preferred the bitter truth about the prime minister to sweeping things under the rug in the service of corruption. It’s enough to read Olmert’s memoir to learn about the worthy people whom he slanders, accuses and condemns, and understand why the extraordinary request to erase his criminal record shouldn’t be granted.

But it’s not Olmert who’s the problem, it’s the public. With his acute antennae, Olmert senses that the years of constant activity by his spokespeople, supporters and yes-men have eroded the norm that corruption and fraud are the mothers of all sins – in the spirit of both Jewish religious law and Western secular law. Because of him some people believe that “it’s not so terrible” if a prime minister is corrupt, as long as he bombs a nuclear reactor or conducts fruitless negotiations to achieve a diplomatic agreement.

In effect, if Olmert lets himself submit such a request after his march of mudslinging, not only is he in trouble, so are the people and the country. What has happened to us if a criminal like Olmert doesn’t fear a scornful reaction to such a bizarre request?

As in the poem by Shaul Tchernichovsky, which should be included in Israel’s 70th-birthday celebrations: “How did we go astray? / Not yet having found rest.” Olmert is the mirror of the error of the people who have become indifferent.

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