THE POSTMAN KNOCKS TWICE: Should Olmert be allowed to return?

I heard on the radio news that former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was released from prison barely 10 months ago, has asked President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon.

April 18, 2018 20:20
4 minute read.
FORMER prime minister Ehud Olmert reads his new book

FORMER prime minister Ehud Olmert reads his new book. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Surely you will understand that I would prefer to write about happy subjects – say, the arrival of spring. As if on cue, a day after the magnificent Song of Songs was chanted in its special cantillation at Shabbat and Passover services, a mourning dove (turtle-dove) was cooing in my flower garden. That is the famous “voice of the turtle” in the Song of Songs heralding spring. And then came the “singing of birds.” I think it was a blackbird. Thus that wondrous verse in Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs 2:12) was taking place before my eyes and ears. What a grand feeling of well-being, of spring, of renewal.

But then I heard on the radio news that former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was released from prison barely 10 months ago, has asked President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon.

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This would wipe out the requirement that seven years must pass from his date of release for the period of “moral turpitude” to end. If the president did pardon him, Olmert could enter politics right away with a clean slate. At this point my Jewish heart was ripped in two: On the one hand I wanted to forgive him, and on the other I was uneasy about that. Below are some of the inner arguments I experienced.

Our tradition tells us that when a person has been punished by the authorities he should be restored to his place as “your brother.” In addition, I knew and liked Ehud. We were never friends, but friendly, though I did not want to see him as mayor of Jerusalem. I was right about that because in no way could Olmert fill Teddy Kollek’s shoes. But there he was, and he used his role in Jerusalem as a stepping- stone to the office of prime minister.

Well, as in the movies, “He had paid his debt to society” and had done some good things. Maybe he should be pardoned.

THEN MY Jerusalemite heart took over. The moment I laid my eyes on the Holyland project – with its ugly, ugly architecture, those immense high-rises, and yet a more immense one staining my city’s skyline for who-knows-how-many decades to come – at that very moment I knew money had changed hands. Whether I could prove that in court is not the point. One court said yes, the Supreme Court said no.

In my mind, the mayor(s) who permitted such a blemish on a national, nay, an international treasure – Jerusalem – are and will be eternally guilty of sinning against Jerusalem.


Then I went back to our sources once more. In the Book of Proverbs we are told: “He who covers up his crimes will not succeed, but he who confesses and leaves [his evil ways] shall be granted mercy [that is, will be forgiven] 28:13.

I have not read Ehud Olmert’s 900-page In Person, nor do I intend to. My time on Earth is too limited for that. But I have read reviews which state that he reaffirms his innocence.

I do not want to enter into the details of the cases opened against him and which of them led to conviction.

There is no need to do so. Ehud has a trail of too many questionable occurrences. He praised the judges for his acquittal from a number of charges, a decision some of us questioned at the time. I find no record of praise for those who found him guilty of bribery.

The claim of a “coup” by conspirators who wanted him out of office echoes the claim being now made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again and again.

The conspirators vary with the circumstances. Netanyahu’s line was originated by Silvio Berlusconi, the corrupt prime minister of Italy, who accused the leftist media and the liberal prosecutors of wanting to dethrone him by “undemocratic” means.

The court of public opinion does not use the same evidentiary procedures or legal statutes as do the courts.

Ehud, I am truly sorry. If you still believe you are innocent of everything, that means you feel no need to change your ways. I do not want to hit a man when he is down. You insist you have done nothing wrong. However, the court and most rational people attest to your guilt. Only if you follow the wisdom of Proverbs, “Confess, and leave your evil ways,” should you be pardoned.

It was not easy to reach this conclusion. I believe Ehud Olmert did many good things. I certainly do not have the stomach of a judge who is able to deprive a fellow human of his or her freedom. But it is, I believe, a fair conclusion.

Thanks for the good you have done, for our “friendliness” and the courtesy shown to me in the past. But I am afraid I must say: “Do not return to politics.”


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