Reporter's Notebook: The speech he hoped never to give

When the Holyland trial started around three-and-a- half years ago, the former prime minister still saw himself as the king of the world and as possibly returning to the prime minister’s chair.

By
December 30, 2015 01:15
2 minute read.
Ehud Olmert

Former PM Ehud Olmert . (photo credit: AMIT SHABAY/POOL)

The change in Ehud Olmert was as clear as day, despite his attempts to downplay it.

When the Holyland trial started around three-and-a- half years ago, the former prime minister still saw himself as the king of the world and as possibly returning to the prime minister’s chair.

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He toured the courthouse, and worked the press and the audience like he was at a convention of his political supporters.

Olmert and the other Holyland defendants laughed at the prosecution and their main witness, Shmuel Duchner, then known only as S.D., interrupting his testimony so many times that Judge David Rozen asked if he was directing a trial or a circus.

Fresh off beating the odds in the original Talansky trial, Olmert exuded confidence and expected smooth sailing in the Holyland case.

On Tuesday, as he looked at the television cameras, giving what amounted to his concession speech – marking that he had failed in the fight of his life to maintain his political career and legacy – his gaze seemed distant.

It was as if he was already looking at the press gallery from behind bars in the prison that he will enter on February 15.

As Olmert forced himself to speak, saying “a big rock has been lifted from my heart,” he looked like he was in excruciating pain; he looked exposed.

If anything, he looked sunken by the heavy rock, the weight and chains of prison.

There were no more defiant text messages from his spokesmen.

They had become famous for their aggressive and timely messages painting his detractors as being on a witch hunt against him, while proclaiming they would win out in the end.

Olmert’s message also seemed stretched, in light of the circumstances.

He said he was pleased that he had been acquitted of the main charges against him, though it was clear from his unusually flat delivery that he was crushed by the prospect of 18 months in prison.

But the most distinctive part of his statement was what went unsaid.

In an emotional high note, he thanked his family, lawyers and the multitudes of his supporters for believing in him and sympathizing with his suffering.

Yet one could not help but feel that he was holding back – that he had more to say, that he – the man who stays on message – could not say.

He was possibly even holding back some regret – which to this day, even as the game is up, he has not uttered.

Whether that regret is an understanding of the crimes he committed, regret that he did not cover them up more carefully, or that he did not fund Shmuel Duchner better so that Duchner wouldn’t have broken the case to the prosecution, was unclear.

Then again, it is noteworthy that there was only one line in which he seemed truly self-assured. This one line, which has gone unchanged: that he never gave or received bribes.

In that case, maybe Olmert’s unmentioned regret on Tuesday was simply having to make the concession speech at all.


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