Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is seen in Jerusalem District Court.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Olmert’s legacy as being a former prime minister convicted not only in one case, but multiple cases, including embarrassing recordings of his actively obstructing justice and tampering with witnesses was sealed on Monday by a combination of silence, fury and a forest.
The new three judge panel presiding over the Talansky Affair retrial included Jacob Zavan and Moshe Sobol returning from the original panel, and the new judge on the panel, Rivkah Friedman-Feldman, replacing retired Judge Musia Arad.
Throughout the case, one of the great mysteries was what was the new judge thinking?
The mystery was thickened and became a media obsession, because unlike Zavan and Sobol, who occasionally interjected statements or questions revealing some of their thoughts, Friedman-Feldman stuck to a maddeningly dead silence throughout the case.
We now know there was a clear reason.
Friedman-Feldman authored a separate opinion from the main court opinion convicting Olmert in which she agreed with the conviction, but went a step further saying that she would have even convicted Olmert in the first trial had she been on the original panel.
According to Friedman-Feldman, all of the massive new Shula Zaken recordings and journal evidence was icing on the cake
This explains her silence during the trial. As far as she was concerned, the retrial was decided before it started.
This was a major bad luck turn for Olmert as compared to Arad who was much more sympathetic to his case and no doubt impacted the other judges as well.
Olmert was also finished off by fury.
Zavan and Sobol pounded the prosecution in a manner resembling anger or fury during closing arguments far more than they questioned Olmert’s lawyers.
Over and over again, they nitpicked at whether there was unimpeachable proof that particular funds, such as a $25,000-30,000 payment from Olmert’s secret funds to Shula Zaken, were for illegal personal use, and whether an argument could be made that they were for permitted political use.
They appeared to argue that it could be within the realm of reason for a boss to pay his employees a bonus for their political work.
The judges even managed to brush off Zaken’s allegations that Olmert used funds to buy expensive cigars, tailored suits and for dry-cleaning, saying that those purchases were made with checks, not with cash from the secret safe.
But in the final court decision, the fury was reserved for Olmert who Zavan said had actively deceived the court in his testimony, including telling the court that he was not speaking with Zaken about the case at all, when the recordings showed the opposite.
It is now clear that the fury directed at the prosecution during closing statements was the court’s attempt to insulate itself from being attacked on appeal by showing how thoroughly it probed holes in the prosecution’s case.
But maybe most outcome-determinative was the forest.
The first Olmert trial panel focused on each individual allegation as if they operated in a vacuum from the bigger picture.
As long as a doubt could be raised for each piece of evidence, the court would not tie the trees
together into a forest.
Returning to Friedman-Feldman, even she agreed that there might be explanations to sow doubt about each allegation against Olmert on an isolated level.
However, taken together as a holistic forest, there could be no doubt that Olmert knew about the secret safe and the illegal use of the funds from the safe.
Olmert may have a lot of time on his hands in prison in the not-so-distant future to ponder these and other metaphors.