Ehud Olmert Deserves a Loud, Clear Word of Apology

The verdict does not leave Olmert pure as the driven snow, but Olmert deserves a loud, clear word of apology, despite everything.

In the raging, effusive verbal storm that erupted following the surprising ‏(and gladdening‏) verdict in favor of Ehud Olmert, one small, important word was sorely absent − sorry. Not sorry for the excessive blood that was spilled; not sorry for the undermined honor; not sorry even for all the prophecies of gloom, doom and denunciation that accompanied Olmert’s trial long before it began.

As though the court had not given its ruling, the factions continued to entrench themselves behind the same lines as they did before the verdict. Two crucial, sensational acquittals, albeit due to doubt, and one secondary conviction − and it’s as though nothing had happened. As far as the opponents of Israel’s 12th prime minister are concerned, Olmert was convicted, even if proved otherwise. They see him as the most corrupt Israeli of modern times and to hell with the court ruling.

Such is the irony of fate − those who exalt the law-enforcing system ignore its verdict the moment it does not please them and fails to fulfill their expectations. For them, only a complete, crushing conviction will be seen as upholding the law. All the rest they may disregard.

Olmert has been marked. He has been locked in the pillory, tarred and feathered, even before the first suspicion was raised. The self-declared Sons of Light are only interested in the tiny corruption cases, deliberately ignoring the systematic wholesale ones. They have marked Olmert long ago.

In August 2006, my colleague Ari Shavit wrote that following the Cremieux Street affair − one of the corruption cases Olmert was investigated over, when he was suspected of offering political favors in exchange for major discounts on a Jerusalem house − “the public’s enraged outcry will shake the world.” Shavit talked about Olmert’s approaching political end, calling him the “walking dead ... In about two months [Olmert] will no longer serve as Israel’s prime minister,” he wrote.

Two more years elapsed until Olmert resigned the premiership. The world did not shake and nothing remained of the Cremieux case, not even a charge sheet − yet not a word of apology. In May 2008, another commentator from the same side, Dan Margalit, wrote: “Olmert took the dirty money with his own hands ... boldly, shamelessly ... a parasite” − and not a word of apology.

Together with other journalists they conducted an uninhibited crusade against the enemy of the people, and now it does not occur to them to apologize. State Prosecutor Moshe Lador joined in with the opening shot − Moshe Talansky’s early, superfluous testimony in the “money envelopes” affair and the embarrassing spectacle that came with it. Some Sons of Light believed Olmert’s corruption was indeed profound; others had political and personal accounts to settle with the man and his way. They never made him any allowances. They never will.

Personally, I never had anything to do with Olmert except for the time he sprang into a flame ‏(a candle’s‏) and saved my partner’s hair at a New Year’s party in Jerusalem. Over the years I thought he understood better than all the prime ministers before him the curse of occupation, and I believed he sincerely wanted to end it. He won me over and even moved me when he told Haaretz straight and to the point, “Two states − or Israel is finished.”

We never had a prime minister who said such clear, brave words before. I believed that his relatively daring proposals to the Palestinians were sincere, and that the Betar man from Binyamina had really changed. At the same time, I have not forgotten − and will never forget − the two nefarious wars he waged, on Lebanon and on Gaza. As for his corruption, I opted to wait for the verdict. Not everyone did.

The verdict does not leave Olmert pure as the driven snow. The hundreds of pages tell a story of problematic behavior. But I doubt it is graver than the conduct of some other politicians, who have never been indicted. Nor can one ignore his conviction on one clause. Having said all that, let’s go back to the beginning. Olmert deserves a loud, clear word of apology, despite everything.