Former US President Bill Clinton’s testimony regarding his affair with Monica
Lewinsky and obstruction of justice charges has been notorious for his attempt
to escape perjury charges by saying, “it depends on what the meaning of the word
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s bureau chief, Shula Zaken,
may have just topped Clinton.
Zaken was hospitalized approximately a week
ago following a day of testimony during which she had a nervous breakdown on the
stand and admitted to illegally receiving NIS 100,000 in funds from the state’s
main witness in the Holyland trial, Shmuel Duchner.
Maybe she should have
stayed in the hospital longer.
Her manner on the stand on Thursday, while
more coherent, was not much more stable.
Whether acting to gain sympathy
or authentically nervous, her hands and voice shook throughout.
paused mid-sentence several times, only to retract and then restart her answer
along a completely different storyline.
Judges usually view much of the
above body language as signaling less-than-truthful responses.
was not the most distinctive aspect of Zaken’s testimony, when – repeatedly –
she not only tried to reinterpret what she had said, but over and over again
completely abandoned her statements to police about her alleged role in
receiving bribes personally and on behalf of Olmert from Duchner.
asked if she had taken funds from Duchner for political- debt needs for Olmert
or if and when she had received a number of expensive “gifts” from Duchner, or
if Olmert knew certain facts about the gifts, which could incriminate him, she
often told police, “it’s possible.”
“It’s possible” is almost universally
regarded by lawyers as a potential partial admission, because a complete denial
is accomplished by saying “no” or the flowery “lo haya vilo nivra” (“it never
was and never happened”); an answer showing one is unsure and does not want to
confirm anything is, “I don’t remember” or “I’m not sure.” Zaken redefined “it’s
possible” not only to mean that “it’s possible that it did not happen,” but
also, “it definitely never happened.”
If she had not been one of the most
powerful women in the country, with top-notch legal advice and a second round
after being certified by the hospital as sufficiently healthy to return to the
witness stand, she might have been able to plead ignorance of the nuances of
But it appeared the court had expected that she, like Clinton,
would have known better.
Zaken was quite comfortable on other points with
people categorically not knowing things – explaining that she had not known that
money she gave to Olmert ally Uri Messer was not needed to cover Olmert’s debts
and that Olmert had not known that she had unnecessarily given the
More likely, Zaken’s interpretation of her earlier statements
related to her “gray” understanding of the world.
Zaken explained why she
broke down during her last time on the stand, which included essentially
admitting that she had taken NIS 100,000 worth of bribes.
She said it was
because she was embarrassed about having admitted to her partial romance with
Duchner – although she unabashedly discussed it in great detail – and that she
had not wanted to attack her and Olmert’s close ally, Uri Messer (for allegedly
misleading her about Olmert needing money), who she then skewered.
these issues fall into the world’s “gray” area, said Zaken.
on an emotional show in her first round on the stand, regardless of whether it
helped or hurt her posture, her linguistics lesson to the court in her second
round kept the proceedings interesting.