(Olmert headlines offer short-term hype | The Times of Israel) Interestingly, only two papers give front-page prominence to the story that was all the talk yesterday, namely the release of a legal report announcing that Israel is not the occupying force everybody believes it to be. One might expect that a paper penned by a former Supreme Court justice and commissioned by the prime minister, which recommends legalizing most West Bank outposts and strikes at the heart of Israel’s national character, would make more noise. But as it happens only Haaretz and Israel Hayom thought it was Page 1-worthy.
Haaretz, as might be expected of a stalwart left-wing publication, comes out against the report’s findings with a front-page editorial calling for its shredding. Israel Hayom meanwhile highlights the report’s warm embrace by the right and its calls for the government to adopt the findings and shift policies accordingly.
I’m glad Olmert was cleared and I’m glad Olmert was wronged
(Washington Post) GALI TIBBON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES – Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks to the press at the District Court in Jerusalem on Tuesday after hearing the verdict in his trial where he was acquitted on two key corruption charges while finding him guilty on a lesser charge.
JERUSALEM – An Israeli court on Tuesday cleared former prime minister Ehud Olmert of two corruption charges–including a bribery accusation that led to his resignation in 2008, as he was trying to negotiate peace with the Palestinians–but convicted him of a lesser charge of fraud and breach of trust.
While some commentators hailed the mixed verdict as proof of an independent justice system, the decision was widely viewed as an embarrassing blow to Israeli prosecutors, and it raised questions about whether an overly-aggressive investigation had wrongly driven Olmert from office.
Olmert was convicted of fraud and breach of trust in connection with a case dating to 2006, when he was a government minister. But he was acquitted of more serious charges that he had pocketed envelopes stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a wealthy New Yorker, Morris Talansky, and that he double-billed state agencies and charities for overseas flights while he was a minister and mayor of Jerusalem.
“There was no corruption. There was no taking of money, there was no use of money, there were no cash envelopes,” Olmert said after the ruling on Tuesday.
Olmert was thrust to power in 2006 after his then-boss, former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, suffered a stroke. Olmert led Israel through an inconclusive but damaging war with the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah that summer and re-started long-dormant negotiations with the Palestinians in 2007.
At the time, those talks appeared to have little traction, and they were cut short by an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009.
Elections after Olmert’s resignation ushered in the current administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative Likud party. Peace talks have been essentially moribund since.
Yoel Hasson, a lawmaker from Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, told the Israeli news Web site Ynetnews.com on Tuesday that he hoped Olmert would return to politics. The corruption accusations, he said, had “wronged one of the best prime ministers Israel has ever had…the Israeli public finally understands that a prime minister was impeached for nothing.”
After Olmert’s resignation, both he and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said they were close to a pact in 2008. Former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has written that Olmert secretly presented a map for a Palestinian state that included international control of holy sites in Jerusalem, but Abbas did not agree to it.
11 July ’12..
(Love of the Land: Glick – Thoughts on Olmert’s partial acquittal)I have not had the opportunity to read the court decision on Olmert. And so my thoughts on his acquittal have little to do with the merits of the prosecution in the three cases adjudicated by the Jerusalem District Court.
I have a problem with corruption investigations against politicians generally and against Ehud Olmert specifically. In general, I find these sorts of investigations against politicians inherently biased. I take my cue from the Federalist Papers, and there I believe it was James Madison who explained that the presumption has to be that politicians are all corrupt. Their power puts them in contact with powerful and wealthy men who use their proximity to politicians to advance their interests. The larger government is – that is, the larger government’s influence over the economic life of a society, the greater the likelihood of corruption. The more power a politician exerts over the economy, the larger his propensity to take bribes from people interested in making a profit.
This is the way of the world. And in our world, where governments control enormous welfare states and therefore exert massive influence over the economic life of a country, the assumption ought to be that all politicians are corrupt.
This assumption then leads to the clear conclusion that every corruption investigation and prosecution of politicians is inherently discriminatory. If all politicians are on the take to greater or lesser degrees, then the decision regarding who to investigate is essentially a decision about who to single out. And therefore, all corruption investigations of politicians are by their nature unjust. The investigations are themselves corrupt.
These understandings led Madison and his colleagues to the conclusion that all government should be limited as much as possible. It also led them to call for a system of checks and balances so that all arms of government checked one another’s power.
In Israel, (and increasingly in the US as we see with the Obamacare ruling), the third branch of government – the judiciary – has become increasingly unhinged from this system. In Israel, the judiciary has effectively co-opted the state prosecution. Under the de facto control of the judiciary, the prosecution has leveraged itself into a position where, like the judiciary, it appoints and promotes its own without answering to elected officials. This situation has weakened severely Israel’s democratic system, attenuating the ability of the public to control its government or trust its institutions.
It is due to these twin issues – the assumption that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and therefore all people with power can be assumed to be corrupt; and the imperial nature of Israel’s legal system – that I view all corruption scandals in Israel with great suspicion. We have consistently seen the tendency of the legal fraternity to selectively prosecute corruption allegations in order to advance the fortunes of the Left against the Right.
And this brings me to my special difficulty with the legal prosecution of Olmert.
Objectively speaking, Olmert was the worst prime minister that Israel has ever had. And that is saying a lot. He had stiff competition from Ehud Barak, but he managed to outdo him in incompetence and general failure to meet the challenge of the office he aspired to in his unmitigated shamelessness and hubris.
Olmert lost the war with Hezbollah in 2006. He lost Israel’s campaign against Hamas in 2008-2009. He failed to block Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. He weakened Israel’s international position and its alliance with the US. And so on and so forth.
The public never forgave him for his failed leadership in the 2006 war. And rightly so. There can be no forgivIng or forgetting his decision to send forces to their deaths in battle AFTER he had already accepted the ceasefire ensuring that none of their action would make any difference. I believe that 34 IDF soldiers died in the last 36 hours of the war that took place AFTER Olmert had agreed to the ceasefire.
And this brings us to the issue of his alleged corruption.
The Israeli media specifically, and the left generally holds the lion’s share of responsibility for the outbreak of the 2006 war due to its massive propaganda campaign to coerce successive governments into withdrawing from southern Lebanon in 2000. Had Israel not run away in May 2000, Hezbollah would not have been free to attack Israel in 2006. It’s that simple.
In 2006, the media were unwilling to acknowledge the cause for the war – them. So right after it was over, they sought to bury it and forget all about it. But the public would not put it behind them. The reservists called up to serve in the war and risk their lives for a war their government decided to lose formed a protest movement and marched on Jerusalem demanding Olmert’s resignation.
The establishment tried to deflect their anger first by seeking to discredit them. Led by Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker, the media sought to castigate the reservists by accusing them of being closet right wingers whose only goal was to avenge the expulsions from Gaza.
When that didn’t work, they tried to punt by forming the Winograd Commission to investigate the war. The mandate of the committee was to begin its investigation with what happened AFTER the unilateral withdrawal of May 2000. By so determining the mandate of the commission, the establishment ensured that no attention would be paid to the cause of the war – Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
But even the Winograd Commission’s findings couldn’t assuage the public’s hatred for Olmert. So the media decided to sacrifice him to the wolves of the state prosecution on corruption charges. They decided that Olmert had to be sacrificed to protect their ideology. And so he was. It is a scandal of historic proportions that Olmert was ousted for anything other than his unforgivably failed leadership of the country in war. His alleged corruption was at best a tertiary concern.
There is now some talk of Olmert making a political comeback. All I can say to that is that if the Israeli public is stupid enough to allow him back in power, then we deserve what we get. But I don’t believe this talk.
The one possible silver lining in all of this is that Olmert’s partial acquittal has put the prosecution in the dock. If its failure to convict Olmert finally empowers the Knesset to reign in our out of control prosecutors, then perhaps it can be said that there was a divine plan to all of this. But since I am in no position to understand God’s design, all I can say is that there are no heroes in this story. The bad guys won, and the bad guys lost.