Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

Pride in Olmert’s conviction

So, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is guilty of bribery and corruption. Another top Israeli political figure bites the dust in a highly public manner, reduced from being the most powerful in the land but a few years ago, to the likelihood of spending time in the chokey in the very near future.

There’s little pleasure though to be taken at Olmert’s demise. The holder of the most internationally respected office in this land, that of the president, nonagenarian Shimon Peres – the man who has brought respectability back to a post so sullied by his predecessor, the convicted rapist Moshe Katsav – spoke for many in this country today when he said “This is a very sad day for Israel.”

Yes indeed. It is a sad day for Israel when someone elected to the highest public office is revealed to be a criminal. Some might suggest that in joining a lengthy list of former senior politicians to be convicted of all manner of crimes from corruption and bribery, to rape or drug smuggling (remember Gonen Segev, former Energy Minister, 2004), it says plenty about the calibre of person involved in politics in Israel today.

Olmert joins Aryeh Deri, Moshe Katsav, Haim Ramon, Itzhak Mordechai, and Shlomo Benizri, amongst others, as senior politicians who have fallen foul of the law.

Today, however, is also a day to celebrate the nature of the Israeli judicial system. There are surely few other countries in the world where a robust legal system and a genuinely independent judiciary — a judicial system that includes both Jewish and Arab judges — can combine to bring the most powerful in the land to book.

Israel’s politicians are surely no more corrupt than politicians anywhere else; the fact is they simply get prosecuted more often! Yet again, the country that so many love to hate has led the way in calling its politicians to account, something most other people across the globe can only dream off.

They’ve been trying to nail Silvio Berlusconi for as long as I can remember, but Italian justice has never been seen to be truly served. It took decades for the French to get to grips with Jacques Chirac, and by the time they did (in 2011) he was too old to really be punished for his corruption. In the U.S. various presidents have been mired in allegations of wrongdoing from “sexual relations” to too closely representing the interests of major corporations such as oil companies, whilst the chance of President Putin’s cronyism being challenged in a Russian court of law is about as great as Lady Gaga being cast in the lead of Shaw’s Saint Joan.

The list of vibrant democracies who consistently fail to bring to book those at the peak of the political system is never-ending, but happily, (though there are plenty of other things to gripe and complain about here), Israel is not a member of that particular club.

While it may indeed be a “sad day” for Mr. Olmert, as well as former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, Danny Dankner, the former chairman of Israel’s biggest bank, Bank Hapoalim, and seven others who have been found guilty in the Holyland case, it is surely a very good day for Israeli justice, something of which this nation should be proud and others should be envious.

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at