Bad Case of the Blues Watching Olmert vs. Zaken

Israeli apathy toward the goings-on in court between former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his ex-aide Shula Zaken is worthy of contempt.

uzi benziman
Uzi Benziman
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uzi benziman
Uzi Benziman

An entire country is sitting in the stands, watching the contest between former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his former chief aide, Shula Zaken, with vague interest. Will she testify or not? Will she get a prison term or just community service? Will a plea bargain be signed with her or not?

And what about Olmert? Will he be taken down, or once more land on his feet? Will he be saved from new hearings on the Rishon Tours and Talansky corruption cases in which he was acquitted two years ago, or will he have to undergo another cross-examination in court? Will he avoid conviction in the Holyland bribery case by the skin of his teeth, or will he be trapped by new testimony from his bureau chief?

An entire country is watching the Olmert-Zaken confrontation as if it was a gladiators’ contest. The contenders are not of equal strength, but everyone is relating to what is going on between them as a competition, almost a game. Who’ll win? Who will prevail over whom?

Will Olmert’s well-pressed lawyers be able to pull him away from the vise-like tongs threatening to grab him, or will the young lawyers representing the until-recently-loyal aide be able to bring her new version of events before the bench?

An entire country is watching the scene unfolding before its eyes with aggravating apathy. There is, of course, some interest in the goings-on, but it’s like the interest in a detective novel: Who’s the real villain in the story? And will they get what’s coming to them?

The portrayal of recent developments in the cases pending against Olmert and Zaken is ignoring the actual conduct of both of them.

What should be on the public agenda is not the legal sophistry about whether cases that have already been decided by the Jerusalem District Court can be reopened, nor the formalistic debate over whether new evidence can be introduced in an appeal to the Supreme Court – or even the technical dispute over whether it’s proper to bring new evidence at the summary stage in the Holyland case.

What we should all be talking about is the behavior of the two defendants, both when they were prosecuted for what actually happened, and as their trials were taking place.

From the public reactions of Olmert’s attorneys to news of a plea bargain being negotiated by Zaken’s lawyers and the prosecution, it’s clear that they strongly oppose this, and will use any formal ploy available to thwart it.

From the procedures being conducted by Zaken’s current lawyers, it is clear that they are making every effort, and grabbing at every legal straw available, to tilt the legal clarifications in both cases in a direction that will ease up on her and place the primary blame on Olmert.

But what all this makes clear is that the truth as presented in two different courts was (at the very least) not the whole truth. The case made before the Jerusalem District Court judges who ruled on the Rishon Tours, Talansky and Investment Center cases was full of holes.

At the time, Zaken invoked her right to remain silent. In the Holyland case, which is now being heard in Tel Aviv District Court, Zaken gave contradictory testimony. The negotiations now being conducted by her lawyers in an effort to obtain a plea bargain are based on her declaration that she did not tell the whole truth (at the very least) and that, if given another chance, she will come clean.

Thus the public is discovering, in the most cynical way possible, exactly how the former prime minister and his former close aide behaved: We didn’t tell the truth (at least, not the whole truth) in court, and we didn’t give the public a direct and reliable report on our actions. We denied, deceived and concealed information to avoid the full force of the law. And now we are continuing to deceive, to ease our legal situation.

An entire country is being exposed to how those who were responsible for managing its affairs are conning them and trampling on the values of truth and justice, and yet it is not rising up in protest. It has let itself be lulled into believing that what it’s watching is no more than a sporting match.

Shula Zaken and Ehud Olmert in court.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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