Fear of Justice for Former PM

Considering Ehud Olmert was convicted of using his power to commit criminal offense, court should be reminded that its purpose is to relentlessly persecute criminals in general, and high-ranking officials in particular.

The Jerusalem District Court unanimously ruled that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used his office and the power it granted him to commit a criminal offense that was not only corrupt in itself, but also "corrupting and dangerous to the public service." Still, despite this severe conclusion, the court granted him, through its merciful verdict, a full and immediate permit to return and run for office and power.

One cannot but conclude that the verdict itself might fall under the very same category of "corrupting and dangerous to the public service." Indeed, it seems as absurd and outrageous as a verdict that would return a driver's license to someone found guilty of reckless and dangerous driving.

The judges justified their verdict by considering the frustration and degradation of losing his public standing, as well as their appreciation of his deeds during his long public service. Yet this logic sharply contradicts precedents set by the Supreme Court throughout the years. In one of these better-known rulings, Justice Haim Cohn wrote: "The offense of the white-collar criminal, who is strict with the cleanliness of his attire but loose when it comes to the cleanliness of his morals, is far worse [than regular crimes]. And if that is true of embezzlers, it is even more so with the leaders of state institutions. Their past, glorious deeds cannot be considered in their favor, but rather the opposite, these deeds in themselves are now prosecutors."

As to consideration for the corrupted man who fell from his high standing, the fifth president of the Supreme Court, Moshe Landau, warned that "excessive mercy" in such cases "might amount to cruelty to society as a whole that might sink to the depths of corruption."

"Until the Messiah arrives," Landau wrote, "we cannot manage without the deterrent power of justice and the fear of justice." One cannot escape the impression that the verdict in Olmert's case is the complete opposite of this necessary deterrence.

There are those who believe that if the State Prosecution would appeal the verdict it could be considered "persecution." One might remind them that the purpose of the public prosecution in modern countries is indeed to relentlessly persecute criminals in general, and high-ranking officials in particular. As attorney general, some 35 years ago, Prof. Aharon Barak was not afraid of being accused of "persecution" or "toppling a serving prime minister" when he insisted on a full legal process when dealing with Yitzhak and Leah Rabin's notorious illegal bank account in the U.S. He also clarified at the time that if an effort to end the affair by paying ransom would succeed, that he himself would petition the High Court of Justice demanding a full legal process.

Years later, Barak saw no need to apologize for his stand or its political implications. In his discussions with Professors Ze'ev Segal and Ariel Bendor, Barak explained: "I believe Rabin should have resigned. That was necessary in compliance with the principle of equality before the law. A prime minister who knowingly keeps $20,000 abroad, and uses that account in contradiction to the law at the time, commits a crime. He must be indicted. And he cannot serve as prime minister."

Therefore the public prosecution has no need to apologize when it insists on appealing the verdict and asking the Supreme Court to judge severely a corrupt former prime minister. This isn't persecution, but rather fulfilling its most elementary duty.

The author is Israel Radio's legal commentator.