Rabbis: We pushed Talansky to talk

Exclusive: Leading rightist rabbis want to bring Olmert down, fearing he'll cede parts of J'lem.

Talansky car 224.88 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin )
Talansky car 224.88
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin )
New York financier Morris Talansky, the witness at the center of the corruption scandal engulfing Ehud Olmert, was encouraged to come to Israel this spring and give evidence against the prime minister by a group of leading rightist Israeli rabbis who want to bring Olmert down for fear he will cede Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount and other parts of Jerusalem, a spokesman for the rabbis said Thursday. Talansky acknowledged receiving a blessing from an important rabbi just before he was interrogated by the police, but firmly denies being encouraged to testify before coming to Israel. Yehoshua Meiri, speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, said the Council of Torah and Kabbalah Sages, which he represents, gave Talansky "halachic approval" to disclose his financial contributions to Olmert in an Internet video conference held between the rabbis and an associate of Talansky six months ago. "Talansky's appearance in Israel and police testimony was aimed at harming Olmert," Meiri said. "The only question was one of timing. When you have one shell left in your cannon, you have to decide when it's best to fire it." The rabbis gave a second round of rabbinical encouragement directly to Talansky after he arrived here for Pessah last month, Meiri said. "I received one blessing from Rabbi Haim Kanievsky," Talansky confirmed, but "there was no halachic decision - absolutely not." Kanievsky is a leading haredi Lithuanian rabbi and heads the Council of Torah and Kabbalah Sages, which includes Rabbi Baruch Avraham Rakovsky of Jerusalem and Rabbi Shlomo Hamshalem of Beersheba, as well as rabbis from Judea and Samaria. The council was formed shortly after the death of the eminent Kabbalist Yitzhak Kaduri in January 2006. "Talansky is a high-profile member of an Orthodox circle which supports the liberation of Jerusalem, meaning the buying up of real estate in the capital," said Meiri, a freelance journalist and one-time founder of the secularist Shinui Party who has since become religious. "This circle had formed business links with Olmert - not for the purposes of corruption, but because they supported him ideologically," Meiri said. "But when Olmert announced during the Annapolis conference last November that he was prepared to relinquish parts of east Jerusalem and Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount, Olmert's Orthodox backers felt he had betrayed them. Suddenly, they had a fifth column in their midst." Meiri added that once Talansky had landed in Israel, he again sought rabbinic blessing before speaking to police, since "he was about to harm another Jew. And he received that blessing." Meiri described a paradigm shift in ultra-Orthodox thought in recent years on the issue of land. "There has been a big change toward the right-wing," he said. Meanwhile, a team of National Fraud Unit detectives will fly to the US to discover the identity of other donors to Olmert, a number of sources said on Thursday. A senior law enforcement official confirmed that police officers would head for the US shortly "as part of the investigation." "They are not just on the trail of Talansky's money. They're looking for the other donors who gave to Olmert," a senior former police source said. "Talansky collected the cash of these additional donors [in addition to his own money] and transferred it to Olmert. Special bank accounts were created for this purpose, and credit card accounts were also used." Olmert was interrogated for around an hour on Friday morning in the second round of questioning he has faced in connection with the investigation. An hour is not enough time to glean much information, a former senior police officer said Thursday. "By the time they say good morning and caution him, 20 minutes will have passed," he said. Uri Messer, Olmert's associate and former legal partner, was questioned again by the National Fraud Unit on Thursday, and his testimony was expected be read to Olmert on Friday by police, the source said. "They will aim to confront Olmert with Messer's account of things to see how he will respond," he added. A number of new details from the police investigation were released on Thursday after the media gag order on aspects of the case was lifted. Copies of e-mails taken from the computer of Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief and long-time secretary, show how Zaken documented regular cash transfers from Talansky, whom she referred to as the "the laundry man." "I received NIS 15,000 from the laundry man," Zaken wrote in one e-mail. "I transferred part of it to Ehud and the rest to Messer." In total, $150,000 of Talansky's money was accounted for in seven of Zaken's e-mails recovered by the police. Also on Thursday, reports said Talansky has paid for a number of Olmert's flights abroad as part of Olmert's "personal use" of Talansky's cash.