'Your election laws are screwed up'

US Jewish leaders and donors see Olmert influence-buying probe as proof of a faulty system.

Olmert adelson 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Olmert adelson 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"Most Jewish donors would never give a nickel to an Israeli politician," a veteran senior American Jewish fund-raiser said over the weekend in response to the ongoing investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accepted bribes from American Jewish philanthropists. "They'll give money to American politicians and millions to the Jewish community, but there's a general sense that it isn't right to give to Israeli politicians," the fund-raiser said. Those sentiments were echoed repeatedly by US Jewish leaders, philanthropists and sources close to them, at President Shimon Peres's Facing Tomorrow conference in Jerusalem last week. "Your laws are screwed up," quipped an American Jewish donor and lay leader. "If every prime minister has been accused of the same thing, there's something wrong with the system." "Israel's election laws need changing," agreed the fund-raiser. "I understand they're really Byzantine." The investigation of the prime minister includes police questioning of NY donor Morris Talansky and businessman and philanthropist S. Daniel Abraham, and taking a statement from casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, though Adelson is not suspected of any wrongdoing. While police would not confirm the identity of those questioned, a source close to Abraham said that police questioned the 84-year-old businessman at his Jerusalem hotel at midnight on Tuesday, the day he arrived for the conference. "It's embarrassing for Israel that someone like Abraham, who gives so much and is coming to Israel for Peres's beautiful conference, is met at midnight by cops. The police were unprofessional and then leaked the whole thing to the press," the source said. "People are joking that the whole conference was held so they could question everybody in one go," a senior Jewish executive said. Nearly all the attendees questioned by The Jerusalem Post criticized Israeli political fund-raising abroad. "I hope [the investigations] will be an incentive to discontinue the practice. It distorts the relationship [between American Jewry] and the democracy here when people from outside the country get into the process," the Jewish executive said. Most at the conference, however, did not believe the donations would end because of heightened police oversight. "People contribute to politicians because they are buying access, and they're not going to be put off by this," said one fund-raiser. "Politics is an aphrodisiac, and those who have tasted it will stay involved," said a donor. Abraham has denied any wrongdoing in the affair. Asked for comment, a police representative said he could not discuss details of an ongoing investigation.