Out From the Legal Haze

It would have been better for Ehud Olmert's lawyers to stick to the legal realm instead of trying - ever so clumsily - to influence public opinion.

Morris Talansky finished his present round of testimony in the investigation of the cash envelopes he gave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Olmert's attorneys reiterated their satisfaction with his appearence Tuesday. They also did not hesitate to broadcast, on every microphone, their opinion of their own performance in the courtroom. They can thus be compared to actors who write their own reviews. They did not leave it to the journalists to write their impressions of the witness' appearance. Rather, through the media, they disseminated their learned opinion that Talansky had crashed on the stand.

Attorneys Eli Zohar, Navot Telzur and Roy Blecher did not direct their remarks at the court; they directed them at the general public - whom they sought to influence. As they see it, the public arena is, at the moment, the battlefield on which Olmert has drafted them to fight. Since Talansky's first testimony influenced the public to kickstart a political process to oust the prime minister, his lawyers have tried to buck this trend by bending public opinion in their client's favor. Therefore, High Court President Dorit Beinisch's complaint that the lawyers were using the media to influence the justices missed the mark: Justices Moussia Arad, Jacob Zaban and Moshe Sobel were not the target of the lawyers' public briefings - rather, it was the general public. Thus Olmert's conduct has led him into a trap, if not an absurdity.

Olmert directed discourse on his behavior to the legal, formal realm, rejecting all attempts to apply a public-ethical yardstick to it. It is he who claimed that as long as an indictment was not issued against him (in the cash envelopes affair) and as long as he was not convicted on the other issues under investigation, there was no reason why he could not continue in office.

Now come his lawyers, with their direct appeal to public opinion. It would have been better for them to stick to the legal realm and concentrate their efforts on convincing the judges of their client's innocence instead of trying - ever so clumsily - to influence public opinion.

After all, the public has known for two years now that Olmert is not fit to manage the affairs of the state. Such is the conclusion drawn from the public's response to the Second Lebanon War, various polls, the Winograd Committee's report and the political area.

Nevertheless, Olmert is holding on tightly to his seat, in contrast to all the other senior officials, both political and military, who were responsible for the war's failure. He is refusing to take moral responsibility for the management and the outcome of the war. He has succeeded in hanging on, because he has counted on formalities - his right to continue in his post as long as the Knesset does not decide otherwise.

No longer. The public has gotten to know Olmert, both from his responses to the war and the overall picture of his behavior drawn from police findings: A man who over the years took advantage of his position to obtain significant perks, both personal and political. These are facts that even he does not deny: He confirms he secretly received money and admits that flight credits were accrued to him and remained concealed. He merely claims in his defense that this is the way all politicians behave. This conduct has made the public, most of which expects its leaders to be clean of corruption, sick of him. Olmert has so far ignored these feelings and has denied the immorality of sticking to his chair and the implications it has for clean government. It may be assumed that from now on, public figures will take care not to tread the same path. To ensure that the day does come, the sun must be allowed to rise and cleanse the corridors of power, not be hidden by a legal haze.