Analyze this...: Why cries of a police 'vendetta' against Olmert don't have a case

Olmert's dwindling band of stalwart backers continue to back him.

Olmert 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"The reports accompanying the investigation have the makings of a vendetta, of an attempt to overthrow the prime minister without a trial," one of Ehud Olmert's lawyers, Navot Tel Tsur, told reporters this weekend. Another source close to the prime minister told The Jerusalem Post this "vendetta" is payback by the judicial establishment for Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's plan to reform the courts system, asserting: "The only way to remove Friedmann is to end the tenure of Olmert, and no one in the police or the prosecution would be upset if Friedmann left office." Such rhetoric has been heard the past few days from the lips of Olmert's dwindling band of stalwart backers, since news broke of the latest police investigation of the prime minister, involving his alleged double-billing of non-profit organizations that have funded his many trips abroad. If such declarations have a familiar ring to them, think back to a little more than a decade ago, when then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was accused of trying to buy political support from Shas in the so-called "Bar-On for Hebron" affair. "Bibi is no pushover," former New York Times columnist William Safire wrote in 1997 about then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, adding; "He believes himself the target of a police-media cabal, and asserts 'the truth will triumph.'" Whether any outside pressures influenced the decision of attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein to ultimately reject the police recommendation that Netanyahu be charged with fraud and breach of public trust, and thus absolve him of any (legal) wrongdoing, is difficult to say. There's no question, though, that Bibi's advisors and supporters certainly campaigned hard against the accusations leveled against him, by attacking what they too regarded as trumped-up charges designed to remove their champion from office, brought by a "police-media cabal" with the support of political and judicial "elites." During the Bar-On affair, Netanyahu's appointment of a controversial justice minister viewed with distrust and worse by the legal establishment - in that instance, Tzahi Hanegbi - was also cited by his backers as one of the reasons the law enforcement bureaucracy was determined to bring him down. Unfortunately for Olmert though, all comparisons between the two scandals have to stop there. Because while cries of persecution by the police and media only strengthened Netanyahu's political support among his core constituency, Olmert's fall largely on deaf, if not outright hostile ears, and not only gain him nothing - they even help undermine whatever waning support is still left him among pockets of the public. That's because even when complaints of bias against the media and judicial over-reaching by the legal establishment have merit, they are almost always tainted by a politically partisan perspective - that of the Right. This is certainly the case in this country, and was among the reasons Netanyahu was able to emerge from the "Bar-On for Hebron" affair with his base of support intact, and remain in office for another two years. But Olmert doesn't have support from that particular constituency, to say the least. Indeed, his appointment of Friedmann, and support for the justice minister's plans to limit the review power of the Supreme Court, is among the very, very few issues on which the prime minister still retains some approval by those conservative voters who once supported him in the years he served as mayor of Jerusalem. But it is nothing more than hopeful delusion on Olmert's part to imagine that, after supporting the disengagement and shifting further left on issues relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict in recent years, he can regain some sympathy among that section of the Israeli public which truly believes there can be a "police-media cabal" willing to bend the law and the truth in order to bring down a prime minister who doesn't win their approval. What is more likely is that Olmert's Bibi-style rhetoric, in reaction to the latest investigation directed against him, only serves to undermine the support he has continued to receive from those who still back him, if only out of fear that his removal from office could lead to early elections that might return Netanyahu to power. In fact, by moving beyond legitimate criticism of the legal justice system and proposing valid reforms to more sharply define its authority, Olmert and his aides have only added fuel to the belief in another conspiracy voiced by defenders of the court: That Friedmann's appointment was motivated in part by the prime minister's desire a weaken a judicial system which he feared would eventually snare him in its coils on some kind of corruption charge. Viewed purely as a political strategy, attacking the media and judiciary when confronted by allegations of wrong-doing can prove an effective tactic - but only if those accusations fall on fertile ground. Binyamin Netanyahu understood this, and certainly so did William Safire - the former Republican speechwriter who coined the immortal phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism" to belittle Richard Nixon's critics. But at the end of the day, even Nixon's most loyal supporters had to concede that the reporters, prosecutors, judges and political opponents looking to bring the president down, no matter what their motives, had a case. For Ehud Olmert, attacking the police and media at this stage is a no-win strategy from the start, a Nixonian ploy without smarts or purpose. [email protected]