At AIPAC conference, PM dances around scandal issue

Olmert tells AIPAC world must clarify to Teheran that its nuke pursuit will have devastating repercussions.

Olmert AIPAC 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert AIPAC 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave a wide-ranging address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Tuesday night, touching on all the major challenges on the horizon: Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, and his own political travails. Though he didn't utter the words "corruption," "investigations" or "calls to resign," he did say to the 7,000-plus people assembled: "Given the recent political developments in Israel, of which I am sure you are all aware, I hesitated as to whether it was the right time and the right thing to leave everything behind and meet with you today." His words received laughter from the audience, and he went on, "I didn't hesitate for too long." While "Israeli politics is accustomed to all kinds of trials and tribulations," he explained, "AIPAC members' love and support of Israel is a solid rock on which we know we can always rely, in good times and in times of crisis." That line got applause, and it also helped win over some of the audience members confronted with welcoming an Israeli prime minister in the throes of a corruption scandal. "It makes him more likeable," said Shaili Pezeshko, a lawyer from Los Angeles. Her companion, Max Libling, also a California-based lawyer, explained: "He knows he's in trouble and he didn't lie to us." In addition to the laughs he elicited for his own travails, he received enthusiastic applause - if only a couple of standing ovations - for his words on the priority of securing Israel, and polite applause for his words on the need to try to make peace with the Palestinians and Syria. But the respectful reception didn't keep some members of the audience from taking shots, albeit anonymous ones, at his predicament. "I don't think he could get a crowd like that at home," teased one. "I wonder if he got a one-way ticket." One Washington Jewish leader was more serious in his criticism. "It's not appropriate in his predicament to do this," he said of Olmert's appearance, with its strong policy prescriptions, before AIPAC. "He's coming here as some kind of strong, solid leader, which is not what he is." He added, "It almost seemed like the ballerina was hopping around on one leg, with enough people willing to call it a dance to make him happy." But another conference attendee pointed out that Olmert was still the prime minister. "He's got a job to do," said Linden Nelson, a CEO based in Michigan who was at the conference. "In America, you're innocent until proven guilty. [Since Israel's] a democracy, I assume you do the same."