Olmert acquitted!

The big news in Israel these days is that former PM Ehud Olmert, former head of the Kadima Party, has been acquitted on all the major charges against him that have so far been tried. These include the “Rishon tours” case, in which his assistant Shula Zaken was accused of having charged duplicate times for his trips abroad, the “Talansky affair”, in which US citizen Morris Talansky was said to have paid Olmert envelopes containing cash, and “misleading the State Comptroller” in relation to funds that he supposedly received. Olmert was in fact found guilty of one lesser charge in the “Investment center affair,” in which he was found to have breached public trust by helping friends to obtain Government funding. Shula Zaken was found guilty on several charges, but the cases against Olmert were judged to be unproven except for the one instance (note that Israel has a panel of judges, but no jury). It is very unlikely that Olmert will spend any time in prison.

Of course, all along Olmert maintained his innocence, although most commentators and the media were sceptical. It has been pointed out that as far as the media was concerned Olmert was judged to have been guilty on all counts, and this definitely skewed the public perception. Since the media is predominantly liberal-leftist this bias cannot be blamed on PM Netanyahu, the Likud Party or the Government, but nevertheless Olmert did make such a charge. However, the cases against Olmert are not over, since the major “Holyland project” case has not yet been brought to trial, in which Olmert and others in his administration as mayor of Jerusalem were supposed to have taken bribes from private developers in order to facilitate the planning permission and the tax payments required for the massive Holyland apartment complex.

These aquittals are a setback for the Attorney General Moshe Lador, who brought the charges against Olmert. Once again the charges brought against a high State official have been judged to be excessive and unproven. This tends to indicate that the State prosecution service tends to go for political appointees as a matter of course, with less regard for the actual evidence. Olmert of course has proclaimed himself innocent of all charges and there has even been talk of his returning to politics. I hope that he does not do this, since his name is already tainted, and most people think that there is no smoke without fire. There were so many cases against Olmert that it seems unlikely that he was not corrupt to some extent, even if the evidence was insufficient to convict him. We should not give him the benefit of doubt, let him remain a private citizen and leave politics to others. His party, Kadima, is already in a perilous state, with Shaul Mofaz trying to keep it afloat, and Olmert’s return to Kadima would only ensure its demise.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.