It is hard to say what the exact constellation of considerations was that made
former prime minister Ehud Olmert decide to bow out from running in the current
But despite his mentioning of legal problems in an interview
with Channel 2 news on Saturday night, it is highly unlikely that his legal
issues were the primary consideration.
Maybe in June that would have been
Olmert was expected by many to be convicted in the
Jerusalem corruption trial for at least some actions of fraud in the Rishon
Tours and Talansky affairs, and to possibly spend time in jail.
Olmert was exonerated on all of the numerous charges except for the minor charge
of breach of public trust in the Investment Center affair.
While this was
definitely a crime, it essentially came down to Olmert using his position as a
minister in situations where he had conflicts of interest, the criminal
equivalent of jaywalking.
Back in June, it was presumed by many that
Olmert would spend extra time in jail as he was accused of having accepted
millions of shekels in bribes in the Holyland trial, with an insider state
witness loaded with a mound of documentary proof.
But then the key state
witness, referred to as S.D. under a gag order, turned out to be an unreliable
He may destroy the state’s case with his seeming
over-excitement at attacking every municipal politician for decades as involved
in Holyland and other scandals, and his confusion regarding numerous key details
in the case.
It is already clear that he has lost serious credibility in
the eyes of the court, a problem which can be fatal for a case.
the other 15 defendants who are more central to the case may still go down, but
Olmert – aside from being the most famous defendant – was always a side story
from the perspective of the case itself, and was always multiple layers removed
from actually having received the alleged bribes himself.
bureau chief, Shula Zaken, has more serious problems in the case, allegedly
having regularly acted as his front for receiving and discussing the bribes, but
she has shown more than once that she is willing to go down to protect him from
any allegations (presuming she knows things she is not telling the
It is true that the state has appealed Olmert’s acquittals
in the Jerusalem corruption case to the Supreme Court.
But it is far from
clear that the court would have ruled on the appeal before election
Also, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, in his capacity as
head of the electoral commission, already denied a request to disqualify Olmert
It is true that the question he was looking at was not the
same as what the Supreme Court will examine and the request was not filed by the
state, but it does not bode well for the state that the request was
If it was a borderline case, Rubinstein certainly could have
waited to rule until the Supreme Court ruled, but he did not.
while Olmert certainly had cause for concern over how the bad press about the
ongoing appeal against him to the Supreme Court would impact his political
standing during election season, the appeal itself has been called objectively
weak by many.
Most commentators who say that Olmert was guilty argue that
the state wrecked the case, in that it was unprepared for key witness Moshe
Talansky to fall apart and was overly optimistic and reliant on the idea that it
could turn Olmert’s lieutenants against him.
Many commentators have said
that the state needed to appeal because they believed Olmert was guilty and that
the state should exhaust all possibilities, including appealing, to try to
But few, even among those who presume Olmert’s guilt, have
said that the state’s actual appeal is strong and likely to succeed on objective
There are no new real legal arguments. It is mostly
repackaged what the state argued below and no higher court likes to override a
lower court just based on the same factual arguments.
The reason is that
the lower court is the one that sees the witnesses and hears the testimony
firsthand, whereas the Supreme Court just gets a transcript of the lower court
You never know what the Supreme Court may decide and the state
did prove many problematic behaviors by Olmert at trial, but the appeal’s
overall low likelihood of success means it was likely not his primary
consideration for bowing out of running.
This is not what Olmert said in
his interview about his decision not to run. But placing significant blame for
not running on a personal crusade by the state against him is one way to
sidestep the political challenges he was confronting.