Former PM Ehud Olmert .
(photo credit: AMIT SHABAY/POOL)
The statement Ehud Olmert made to the press Tuesday following the reduction of his bribery sentence from six years to 18 months did not include an expression of remorse, but was notable for his stubborn reiteration of the claim he made throughout his legal ordeal that he never gave nor received bribes.
“A great rock has been removed from my heart since the Supreme Court found that I am innocent of the central accusation in the Holyland case,” Olmert said after the decision was announced. “I said in the past that I was never offered and I never received a bribe and I say this even today.”
This may be recorded in the annals of Zionism as the Israeli equivalent of former US president Bill Clinton’s insistence during his impeachment hearing that he “never had sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton was impeached, but remained in office.
In contrast, Olmert was forced from office to defend himself against charges that led, among other things, to his present status as a convicted felon whose crime was characterized by moral turpitude.
Under Israeli law, a person convicted of a crime bearing moral turpitude is barred from seeking public office for seven years after completing a prison term. This “cooling-off” period is apparently designed to enable a remorseful public figure to regain a place in society – following a prison term – after a suitable period of penance.
In his public statement, Olmert did not make an auspicious beginning in his new role as a convicted felon, expressing joy at the reduction of his sentence but no acknowledgment of or regret for his crime. His family even announced it would seek a pardon from President Reuven Rivlin.
In the words of Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich, “Olmert’s shameful reaction and the delusional and arrogant show he put on outside the court are disconnected from reality and show he has not repented.”
The Holyland trial involved 16 defendants, 13 of whom were convicted of participating in the biggest bribery scheme in the state’s history. But the bribery, unlike one of the defense’s claims, was not a victimless crime – the entire population of Jerusalem has been victimized by the massive overdevelopment of the Holyland site, which has left a permanent scar on the landscape.
Greed drove the corruption that rezoned the Holyland project from its original approved plan to build some 300,000 square feet of residential buildings to more than 3 million square feet, including a skyscraper at the top of a formerly scenic hill. This translated into hundreds of millions of dollars more in revenues for the owners and developers, but has left what is commonly described as a monstrous eyesore that defaces the capital’s skyline. That such crimes were perpetrated under the administrations of two former Jerusalem mayors, Olmert and fellow felon Uri Lupolianski, is not merely an indictment of bribery but of the capital’s corrupt system of government – at least under their tenures.
Hopefully, when Olmert reports to prison on February 15 to begin his 18-month term, reality will begin to sink in and his rehabilitation can begin. Once he internalizes the verdict of the Supreme Court and expresses true remorse, he can begin to look toward the future.
He may take heart from a former colleague, Arye Deri, whose bribery conviction with moral turpitude is long past, enough so that he apparently has no qualms about returning to the scene of the crime of his own bribery as a reborn interior minister. Deri has served his time and presumably has learned his lesson.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision a “sad day for Israel” in that a former prime minister is going to prison, but Yacimovich differed.
“This is not a sad day for the state. The sad days for the state were when he was taking bribes. This is an optimistic day of defeating corruption, a day on which everyone knows that all are equal before the law, whether they are rich, poor, weak or strong,” she said.
We agree with Yacimovich’s more upbeat view of this episode, noting with perhaps muted pride that the only democracy in the Middle East has so far managed to survive the first imprisonments of a former president, a former finance minister, and now a former prime minister.