Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
(photo credit: YOTAM RONEN)
Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen spoke out courageously and unambiguously on Tuesday. He said the “business elites” embroiled in the corruption travesty surrounding Jerusalem’s Holyland apartment complex had been motivated by “greed, if not gluttony.”
Rozen went so far as to say that public officials who take bribes betray the public whom they are supposed to represent. “The higher the rank [of the public official], the greater the punishment,” he said.
As a result, the judge gave former prime minister Ehud Olmert a six-year prison sentence, a two-year suspended sentence and a NIS 1 million fine. Olmert’s sentence was notably stiffer than the ones received by other defendants, including those found guilty of giving the bribes.
Rozen was correct to hold Olmert to higher moral standards than the others, precisely because he has over the years held such high political positions. The public places its trust in political leaders who are expected to have the ethical fortitude to resist the temptations that political life offers.
One of a politician’s most important roles is to ensure that hard-earned taxpayers’ money and public resources are allocated fairly and honestly. Loss of trust in elected officials undermines the foundations of law and order.
By handing down a stiff sentence against Olmert, Rozen sent a message to all public officials that they should strive to be ethically irreproachable. He was also sending a message to the public that it should demand this from government officials.
This is a sad day for Israel. How is it that a man who held the country’s top office has been found to be involved with corrupt elements? What does this say about our society and our political culture?
This is also a sad day for Olmert and his family. The former prime minister is 68 years old. If, after appealing to the Supreme Court, he serves time in prison, even for just a fraction of the six years to which he was sentenced, it will be a pitiful end to a long and successful political career, during which Olmert, as Rozen rightly noted, contributed a great deal to Israeli society.
Olmert’s lawyer Eli Zohar called the sentence “very harsh” and stressed once again that Olmert had been emphatic that he took no bribes, and would therefore appeal to the Supreme Court.
Amir Dan, Olmert’s spokesman, said the sentence was beyond all sensible proportions, and accused the court of wrongly convicting “a man who made a huge contribution to the state.”
At the same time, Rozen’s sentencing is reassuring. It shows that no one – not even the most well-connected politicians in the nation – is above the law. Olmert had the best legal defense available. High-profile political figures continue to support him and to claim he is innocent.
The State Attorney’s Office and legal establishment, however, welcomed the sentence, saying that justice had been served.
But none of this prevented Rozen from showing that no one is above the law. Other high-ranking politicians have found that they are not immune to justice.
Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson was convicted in 2009 of stealing approximately NIS 2 million from the National Workers Labor Federation. Former president Moshe Katsav was convicted in 2010 of two counts of rape. Katsav is in prison and Hirchson got out in January 2013.
If Olmert indeed enters prison, it will be the first time a man who served as prime minister is incarcerated.
This should cause us both shame and pride – shame that such a senior, respected and popular politician could be corrupt; and pride because our law enforcement system did not balk at meting out the appropriate punishment.