A day ahead of Ehud Olmert’s verdict, most of the Hebrew newspapers ran huge photographs on their front pages of a dour and depressed man. The message was clear: Olmert was preparing for the worst possible scenario.
In fact, it was the press and not the former prime minister that was prematurely predicting the outcome.
On Channel 1 on Tuesday morning, a colleague pointed out, the legal affairs reporter announced that Olmert had been found guilty – on all counts – because the opening paragraphs of the ruling, which were being read out as she spoke, did not contain the word “innocent” in them.
When it turned out that the verdict was, in fact, an almost total acquittal, the reporter continued talking about the trial as if her blunder had not occurred at all.
Those two examples are reflective of how the media has treated Olmert since his resignation as prime minister in 2008.
Gone was the presumption of innocence, gone was the notion of sub judice during the trial, and gone were words such as “alleged” before Olmert’s purported “crimes.”
It’s true that the court did find him guilty of breach of trust while serving as industry, trade and labor minister, and yes, the Holyland case still looms over his head like a Sword of Damocles.
But he was exonerated on the primary charges against him, including allegations that he received bribes from American businessman Morris Talansky and doublebilled charities in the socalled Rishon Tours affair.
When The Jerusalem Post invited Olmert to be its keynote speaker at its New York conference in April, we were inundated with angry emails deploring our invitation of “a criminal.” At the conference itself, the audience booed Olmert when he suggested that US President Barack Obama was a friend of Israel.
Why has Olmert been treated so rudely and unfairly by the press and the public? One answer might be that he came very close to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians during his premiership.
Who knows what could have happened if Olmert had not been forced to step down as prime minister over a laundry list of corruption charges? Although it may be too early to make such a determination, this might just be the start of Olmert’s return to political life.
At the age of 66, he still has the energy and conviction to make a dramatic comeback and perhaps even run for prime minister in the next elections. This, of course, is a move that needs the support of the legal and political establishment, and most importantly, of the people of Israel.
In the meantime, though, both the public and the media have new lessons to learn about that old adage coined by English lawyer Sir William Garrow: “Innocent until proven guilty.”
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