Biography: Ehud Olmert

olmert 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Ehud Olmert was born in what is now Binyamina on September 30, 1945. In his youth he was involved with the Betar youth group, a revisionist zionist movement started by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Olmert's father was a member of Knesset under the revisionist Zionist Herut party, which was the opposition to the ruling Mapai. During his army service, he was an officer in the Golani infantry unit. He also was a military correspondent for the IDF journal Bamachaneh. After graduating from Hebrew University with a B.A. in philosophy and psychology as well as an L.L.B. (a law degree), Olmert went on to set up a successful law partnership in Jerusalem. In 1973 he became the youngest MK in history for what was to be the first of seven consecutive terms. Between the years 1981-1988, he was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. In 1988 Olmert became minister-without-portfolio responsible for minority affairs, and served in that position until 1990, when he became Minister of Health. As minister-without-portfolio he was considered a strong advocate of improving services to the Arab sector. During the 1980s Olmert shifted to the left. He gained enemies within his party by joining the effort to usurp legendary Likud leader Menachem Begin, and twice floated the idea of unilaterally granting Palestinian autonomy. In 1991, he caused a stir at an AIPAC conference when he said that Israel was willing to negotiate with Syria about the Golan Heights. Shamir and Sharon subsequently denied the claim. In 1993 Olmert scored a decisive victory against the popular Teddy Kolleck in a race to be mayor of Jerusalem, and became the first member of the Likud party or its predecessors to win the position. He was re-elected in 1998. As mayor of Jerusalem he slid to the right, pushing for the opening of the controversial Western Wall Tunnel as well as supporting Jewish settlement efforts in Arab neighborhoods and aggressively pursuing a policy of demolishing any unauthorized construction by Arab residents. During his time as mayor, Olmert spearheaded numerous programs to revitalize the city, including the construction of the Begin highway, a light rail system, and increased funding for the arts. He was widely criticized, however, for allowing the haredi sector to gain significant influence in the municipality. His proponents responded that it was simply democracy at work. Olmert is also widely credited with improving Jerusalem's school system, which is the largest in the country. During the last year of his tenure, attendance at city-run Arab schools increased by 53%. In 1998 Olmert began his move back to the left by supporting Barak in the national elections and urging Likud to join the coalition after Barak's victory. In 2003, Sharon defeated Olmert in the primaries for leadership of the Likud. Following his defeat, Sharon appointed him as the head of the election campaign for the Likud Party in the elections and was chief negotiator of the coalition agreement. After Likud's victory, Sharon appointed him Minister of Industry and Trade as well as Vice Prime Minister. Olmert subsequently became Minister of Communications and then Minister of Finance. Although Olmert voted against the Camp David accords in 1978 and vocally opposed withdrawal from the Sinai in 1982, saying that it was a "historic mistake," in 2005 he became one of the foremost supporters of the Gaza disengagement. After his appointment to the government, Olmert said of Menachem Begin, "Now I am sorry he is not alive for me to be able to publicly recognize his wisdom and my mistake. He was right and I was wrong. Thank God we pulled out of the Sinai." When Sharon broke away from the Likud in November 2005 to establish Kadima, Olmert was one of the first join him. Following Ariel Sharon's serious hemorrhagic stroke on January 4, 2006, prime ministerial powers were transferred to Olmert. Today he serves as Minister of Finance, Minister of Industry and Trade, and is responsible for the Israel Lands Administration as well as being Acting Prime Minister. On Sunday, January 16, he was approved by Kadima to act as interim chairman of the party. Compiled by Joseph Flesh Sources: Jerusalem Post archives, Knesset web site and Wikipedia.