Shula Zaken Sees the Light

Zaken's total wretchedness in understanding that she and Olmert are not in truth the same is heartbreaking.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
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Tal Niv
Tal Niv

“I’ve been told that Olmert is disappointed with me over the wire-tapping affair. There couldn’t have been anything that would break my heart more than that. I gave him all my life.” These words, full of sourness, were uttered by Shula Zaken two years ago, when her brother admitted to bribing the head of the Tax Authority, Jacky Matza. Now, after her offer to become a state’s witness against Olmert was turned down, she finds herself both compromising her principles and remaining exposed to a none-too-lenient verdict.

Shula Zaken is a woman falling on a sword – but the question is, which sword? Are we talking about loyalty until (legal) death, illustrated in emotional terms, dependent on requests for help from the heavens, vows that are annulled — or did Zaken break the law of her own initiative, knowingly, for her own motives, according to her plans and for the sake of her power, her economic and social benefit? One answer to this question lies in her own words.

Zaken now describes herself as broken-hearted. It is hard to imagine the distress of a woman, man, anyone whose source of power has collapsed and is put on trial in a court of law. “It’s no secret than in recent days my heart has been broken and the little happiness that remained in me is almost extinguished … until you came, dear people, family, friends and common folk,” she wrote on her Facebook page before deciding to recount how Olmert kept a “second kitty” that he conducted in cash only for his personal needs.

“With the blessings and support I felt, which came from the heart and kept me in my belief … the Lord will answer all your wishes for health and prosperity,” she wrote.

Who are these “common folk” she is thanking? Those who don’t know much. Zaken probably doesn’t want to insult the “common folk,” but the combination of religious talk full of light about God and his nation Israel exposes the fundamental crisis she is undergoing.

When Zaken began her career alongside Olmert, there weren’t many elevators by which a young, Mizrahi, uneducated women could rise to a position of decisive influence – or the illusion thereof – by herself, without being the “secretary” or wife of someone of importance. Even today, three decades after they began to work together, while Zaken stands on trial for corruption, there is no woman at the head of any of the 68 government companies.

Zaken’s strength – at its peak – was not insignificant, and the fact that it was based on personal “loyalty” to Olmert turned out to be mistaken from her perspective. But it was strength. And even though this does not detract from her personal responsibility, her total wretchedness in understanding that he and she are not in truth the same – not in terms of their ability to defend themselves and not in terms of how they are treated – is heartbreaking.

It appears that Zaken was not prepared for the cold winds blowing outside the building where her role was to be “loyal” to somebody else’s desires, to ride the elevator with him, and to abandon her loyalty to the public, the law and ethics. To side with the “second kitty.”

She fell on a sword – but not as an act of loyalty, rather after seeing reality. It’s no surprise she’s turning to the heavens for mercy.

A convergence of social, personal and gender circumstances make her story so interesting, and she herself worthy of sympathy — because sometimes a person really does lose his whole world. And those who want to think that she probably took bribes with impunity while Olmert, whose every item “passes through her,” is as clean as can be and blissfully unaware of her wrongdoings – let them continue to think so.

Shula Zaken at her trial.Credit: Nimrod Saunders

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