Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

A tale of Olmert and other envelopes!

I first met Ehud Olmert in 1979  a rookie MK in the 9th Knesset.

In those days it was fairly easy to visit the Knesset as long as one had a bone fide invitation. Also one could walk from level to level without asking permission and only occasionally was one asked to show credentials. The Knesset was not as “tarted up” as it is today and was not an unfriendly place. The atmosphere was almost homely, calm and orderly, so much in contrast to what it is today.

In 1978 after a prolonged stay in the UK I returned to Israel with my family. Shortly after we arrived I met with Chaim Herzog z”l who had recently returned home from his stint as Israel’s UN Ambassador. Chaim was concerned that one of the main ills of Israeli society and which in fact kept the public distanced from the legislators, was the Electoral System. He favoured the British System with some amendments. In fact, Gad Yakobi z’l and others not all connected to the Labour Party, had been working on the idea of changing to a regional proportionate system for some time.

After discussions with like-minded people, most of whom had originated from lands where parliamentary democracies existed, an organisation called The Committee of Concerned Citizens  (“Ezrachim She Echpat lachem”) came into being.

Through a guy named Sabbagh who it seemed knew everyone in Likud, we were invited to the Knesset and once there he introduced us to everyone he knew. There were many MK’s and hacks with whom he was on first name terms.

My colleagues Irene and Rona and myself, became known as the “gingies” we all had english accents and we smiled. It was actually the late Motta Gur who gave us the nickname and it stuck despite the fact that only Irene was a true redhead, Rona was an exotic brunette and me just fair-haired.

Our job at that time was to introduce the idea of Electoral Reform and to get as many MK’s as possible to join the cross-party lobby which was in the process of being set up.

So on the first occasion with a deep breath, we each went our different ways. I was going up a moving stairway when I passed Ehud Olmert he had been pointed out to me.

I smiled and softly said, “Can I speak to you”? He nodded and I continued “Congratulations on your entering the Knesset, I want to talk about Electoral Reform”. By this time we had left the escalator and I added;

“I am sure that a man as good looking and charismatic as you would be ideal to reach out to voters and constituents and as you are by profession a lawyer, you must like this idea” He acceded to my compliments and I moved on.

Soon after I met Meir Shitrit and David Magen both young “Turks” who admired Herzog they used the word “haredim” in describing their warmth towards him, so that gave me the confidence to approach others.

The reason why we did not achieve our objective to change the system is long and complicated but my relationship with Olmert continued when he became Minister of Health. By then  I was Director of the Britain Israel Public Affairs office in Tel Aviv.

On several occasions, I brought journalists and VIP’s to meet him. He was always charming and pleasant.He also was amongst the first to express regret when my office in Tel Aviv was abruptly closed down. Always a nice guy to do business with. I am not surprised that the women with whom he worked closely, fell under his spell.

He made it to the top no question, he became Mayor of the most unique city in the world.He then became Prime Minister, wasn’t that the ambition of any astute politician who also happened to be a lawyer?

So why did he allow greed to consume him when he had so much anyway?

Envelopes?

That’s not new! They weren’t invented by Talansky and Olmert.

It’s only what’s in them that’s interesting.

As a seventeen-year-old girl in my second job after leaving school, I worked as Assistant Showroom Manageress and model for the most accredited “haute couture” tailor in London. His name was Harry Teper. My stepfather to be knew of him and so the connection was made and I got the job.

The year was 1947-8  our showroom whose walls were padded with oyster coloured silk was situated in South Audley St, Mayfair. Most of the clients  were wealthy businessmen and or their wives. Not all were Jewish I might add.

Some were politicians but were most circumspect.

There were also two very elegant French ladies who lived at the Dorchester Hotel nearby. I only found out later that they were, in fact, high-class call girls.

There were, however, one or two regular clients who did not fit the former description. They were English with accents not of Oxford or Cambridge or even Mayfair! They had been introduced to my boss by a colourful character called Sidney Stanley who was it seemed a refugee who escaped to the UK from Poland.

I attended the fittings and made the appointments. After the fittings the Englishman whom I will call Mr. B  would hand me an envelope to give to my Boss.

I did as I was told.

I was not enamoured of my boss I found him insensitive almost uncouth and not in anyway attractive but I appreciated his craft. I invariably was asked to model the garments before the client came and as I had been in the “schmatta business” as it was called then  I knew a good garment when I saw one. I also was required to dress impeccably.

I did not look into the envelopes.

My mother remarried on Xmas Eve  194.  As she was not a romantic she decided against a honeymoon and instead went away with her sisters to a ski resort in January. I stayed at the apartment with my stepfather and went to work as normal. As we were having breakfast one morning, Uncle Joe as I called him, opened the Daily Express newspaper (in those days it was delivered to the door) “Oh my God” he stammered “Look at this” On the front page was a large picture of my boss and his wife on the luxurious Queen Mary liner  bound for New York.

“What shall I do?” I said. “Go to work as usual” was the response. When I arrived at the showroom the manageress May and other staff members were sitting in the “Padded Cell” I called it then. Almost everyone was in total shock. Only May remained calm despite the fact that two stern looking detectives were ensconced on the oyster coloured satin couches.To this day I do not know if she was involved.

From then on a  Government Tribunal – the Lynskey Tribunal  was set up to investigate the rumours of both corruption and possible spying and we were told to go home and not talk to anyone.The showroom was closed.

The following is a quote from Wikipedia;

The Minister of Building, Belcher was keen to network with industrialists and was flattered by Stanley’s apparent solicitude. The two rapidly became friends and Stanley offered Belcher use of a house that he had rented at Margate for the duration of the 1947 Labour Party conference. Belcher took the opportunity to invite his wife, children and mother for a two-week vacation, and it soon became apparent to Stanley that the party was too large for his rented house. Stanley booked the party into a hotel in Cliftonville and, though Belcher at this point became nervous, Stanley insisted and prevailed. In the end, Belcher indulged himself thoroughly and the friendship between the pair became increasingly intimate.[16][17]

Stanley pressed more and more gifts of food and wine, a gold cigarette-case and ultimately a suit of a quality beyond the means, and clothing coupons, of a junior minister in post-war Britain. Stanley was full of rather vague industrial and commercial propositions that never came to any resolution.[18] Stanley also paid for suits for Gibson and Minister of Works Charles Key.[19].

Once the tribunal was underway some of us were called to testify.

I remember that I was terrified and that I answered to the best of my ability and said that I had no idea what was in the envelopes. I was never present when they were opened. However there was a moment when a perverted feeling of loyalty lead me to say “I was not aware of that” in answer to one of the questions about when they went on an unscheduled holiday weekend, which I knew that Teper’s wife had answered innocuously not realising that it would implicate her husband who had lied.

Of course, it’s now obvious that in those envelopes were clothing coupons, not cash.

Sidney Stanley who was a friend of the man who had an office on the floor below was often popping in and out.I even have a photo taken with him, his wife, my parents and the wonderful guy who was to join the Hagana soon after and be the cause of my own aliyah to Israel in 1949.

Whatever the case ordinary people can inadvertently become caught up in criminal activity and have to take their chances as to the outcome.

My boss Harry Teper was forced to return from the USA to stand trial and all that evidence is now available on GOOGLE.

Who would have thought…?

I wonder what Olmert will go down in history as..?

I sincerely hope that the media will allow him to recede into anonymity.

 

 

 

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About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.
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