I was nearing the end of an interview with an Israeli business executive for an article I was working on when there was a surprise guest at the door: Ehud Olmert. This was after the point when Olmert, one of Israel’s most veteran politicians, a former prime minister and mayor of Jerusalem, was convicted on bribery charges connected to the Holyland development project, but before today''s sentencing of the once world leader to six years in prison.
Now, I have never met a prime minister, nor for that matter have I ever met someone who’s been (or is going) to jail, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to react. Should I be excited to meet Israel’s equivalent of George W. Bush (the past prime minister equivalent, not the going-to-jail part)? Or aghast at bumping into a famous criminal?
Mind you, I’ve never been a big celebrity hound. Despite growing up in California, the only star I ever even came close to was Friends’ David Schwimmer, when we were both eating in the same sushi restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles. I didn’t interrupt his entourage, preferring to gawk from three tables away. Closer to home, I’ve shaken hands with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat many times, but I already knew him from back when he was a venture capitalist and I was the head of a startup looking for funding.
Ehud Olmert (photo: Marc Israel Sellem, The Jerusalem Post)
So I wasn’t overly awed to be standing opposite such a well-known and powerful man. Still, from the moment Olmert walked into the room, it was clear that he was not in any way ordinary. This man was destined to be prime minister. He had a presence that was not diminished by his current circumstances.
Impeccably dressed, after a brief introduction, he strode right towards me and took my hand, holding it for close to a minute while he asked me questions about myself: where was I from, how long have I lived in Jerusalem, what do I do for a living? He held my gaze; he was attentive, focused and made the recipient of his grip feel, well there’s no other way to say it, just plain special.
I answered his questions with some lighthearted banter, then launched into a rather inane story about how a neighbor’s dog had once gone out exploring, impregnating several female dogs along the way, before ending up at the Olmert’s house.
“Which house?” Olmert asked and laughed.
“The one on Kaf-Tet b’November,” I said, glad that, given the current situation, it wasn’t his home on Cremieux Street; that one had been the source of a previous legal affair for the former prime minister. I thought about making a joke about that other famous Jerusalem residence, the Holyland, but thought better of it.
Olmert’s arrival was a signal that my scheduled interview was over. I packed up my laptop, slung my backpack over my shoulder and said my goodbyes. Only when I arrived on the street and pulled out my phone did I realize that I had left the recorder on, taping the entire encounter, inane dog story and all. I reviewed the audio file; there was nothing incriminating. I was no Shula Zaken.
Unless an appeal is granted, Olmert is due to begin serving his time on September 1. As such, I imagine this would probably be our first, and only, in-person encounter. But just in case, I’ll prepare a different story for next time, hopefully one without a randy, roving canine.