Ehud Olmert's Scorched-earth Soul Searching

The only Israeli prime minister to go to prison lashes out at all the people who put him behind bars — except himself

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IllustrationCredit: Amos Biderman

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is on an intensive PR campaign on behalf of his prison memoir and, more important, his reputation. Based on numerous interviews and book excerpts that have been published, he evidently thinks the lengthy, complex legal process to which he was subjected was nothing but “injustice and crazy persecution.” The story of the first Israeli prime minister to be sent to prison can be summarized in a single sentence he said: “When the system wants to frame someone and mobilizes all its resources to convict you of something, they’ll convict you.”

Olmert doesn’t spare anyone in “the system” from his accusations, from the state prosecution to the attorney general and the judges. Everyone is guilty, except for him.

Of Menachem Mazuz, the attorney general during his prosecution and today a Supreme Court justice, Olmert writes, “He made his way to the bench over my political corpse. ... His path was paved with leaks, inappropriate smears and, above all, cheap populism.” Of then-State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, he declares, “I accuse Lador of committing the crime of conflict of interest. ... He’s a criminal.” Judge David Rozen, who heard the Holyland corruption case, is “a disgrace to the court. I don’t want to descend to the level of his sewers.” And then-State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is “the champion leaker from his investigations. Lindenstrauss is a criminal who must be prosecuted.”

If there was a hope that the 18-month prison sentence and the 12 months he actually served would cause Olmert to do some soul-searching, it was not borne out. Just the opposite. Apart from one meaningless admission of responsibility — “I take the responsibility on myself because a thing like this happened with my senior aide” — Olmert blatantly ignores the facts: He was convicted of fraud and breach of trust for taking cash-stuffed envelopes from businessman Morris Talansky, convicted of taking bribes in another case that was a derivative of the Holyland case and convicted by his own confession of obstructing justice by trying to dissuade his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, from testifying against him.

Olmert’s assault on the rule of law is occurring against the background of similar behavior by his successor. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, is the victim of “an organized, orchestrated hunt,” sometimes called a “witch hunt,” and in any case, if the police recommend indicting him, “so what?”

Then-Prime Minister Designate Benjamin Netanyahu listens to then-outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem, March 31, 2009.Credit: AP

Olmert’s attempts to distinguish himself from Netanyahu — “not one of the investigations against me dealt with my role as prime minister” — miss the point. The problem isn’t only when the crimes were committed, but the fact that someone who was entrusted to lead the country allows himself to undermine Israel’s justice system and strip it of its most precious asset — the public’s trust.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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