Olmert’s Fall From on High

Olmert is not alone in his column of shame; every single one of them is familiar to you. From a legal perspective, they are innocent. But, damn it, what about your perspective?

 Former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. AP

And the two walked together – the two of us, that is, Ehud Olmert and this writer – seeking to uproot the corruption that was destroying everything good. He, the scrappy Likud newcomer, and me, the youngest in my party, passionately set out to fight crime together. It was the 1970s, and new blood was starting to flow in the regime’s hardening arteries. Hooray for the new generation, and perhaps even the next prime minister! How ridiculous it all seems now. There’s nothing for me to do but apologize.

Some time later, after our first terms were over, I looked around and couldn’t find Ehud anywhere. He had disappeared to do his own thing, leaving me alone. That feeling of loneliness and fear of abandonment accompanies me to this day. Since then, my former partner managed to accumulate an impressive collection of acquittals, while I’ve been left empty-handed, with no certification of my integrity; who now will risk serving as a character witness on my behalf?

Olmert shaped his environment in his own way, which gradually became the way of his associates and those close to him; it wasn’t only Shula Zaken who rotted in the minister’s office. So it was in the mayor’s office, and in the Prime Minister’s Office as well – “Everyone loves bribes and seeks rewards.” As we know, power corrupts. It’s frightening and depressing to think that in our holy land the inner sanctum was more like a den of conspirators. The shame is one thing, but what about the danger? After all, everything that gets wormy collapses and we aren’t talking about one rotten apple in the basket; what’s revealed is only half of what’s concealed. Jerusalem, O faithful city, has been bribed.

A politician who wants to survive must decide from the start what’s more important to him – his public mission, or the delights that public life offers those who pursue it. And if he doesn’t decide in time, if he doesn’t draw a clear line between what is permitted and what is not, between black and white and even gray – he will get into trouble sooner or later. He is digging himself a pit and he will eventually fall into it. Nothing lasts forever, no one is immune forever, and a person will not forever get the benefit of the doubt, or benefit from the impaired judgment of judges in Jerusalem who are naïve, or pretending to be.

Olmert is an arrogant person, whose arrogance has only increased over the years. With the skill of a seasoned lawyer he jumped over the pits and didn’t fall, until Mondau. I, who have watched closely his potholed path to the top, was not as surprised by his conviction as I was by his previous acquittals. I had always wondered what the story was behind all those homes, cigars, lighters, ties, envelopes and hotel suites, why all the gifts bestowed openly and secretly, why he needed to act as though he’d been born in first class and not in Binyamina. How did you fall from on high, Ehud? It’s really very unpleasant for me to stand here and watch you bleed on your bitter day.

Five years ago I met a former Knesset member whom I particularly like because he’s smart, has a sense of humor, and successfully made the long journey back from the Greater Land of Israel to the State of Israel. He reminded me of a conversation that he, Olmert and I had had in the Knesset cafeteria around 40 years ago, and that I had totally forgotten. We were chatting about this and that, and then Ehud excused himself and left for a meeting elsewhere in the building.

“You see that friend of ours? He’ll find himself in prison one day,” I said to the MK, according to him. He was shocked by what I had said, he told me; he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He asked me why I had said that, and based on what. And I answered him: Ehud is subject to temptation. He likes money and everything that money can buy. And I’m not sure that he’ll know how to be careful and control his desire.

Olmert is not alone in that column of shame; there are plenty like him up at the top, people who have looked out and are still looking out for themselves. Every single one of them is familiar to you. From a legal perspective, they are innocent. But, damn it, what about your perspective?