Ehud Olmert’s verdict ‘al dente’ to European tastes

News from Europe.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert leaves the court room after a hearing during a previous corrupution trial. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert leaves the court room after a hearing during a previous corrupution trial.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 In terms of covering Israel, former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s conviction was the most featured story across Europe last week. Italian newspapers seemed particularly eager to report the verdict – a country notorious for “tangenti,” bribes and political corruption scandals. Il Fatto Quotidiano was ablaze with posts in the often neglected commentary section. Some praised the Israeli court system: “Viva Israel, a great country where the justice isn’t afraid to send anybody in prison, not even the prime minister, everybody is the same in the eye of the law!” Or, more ironically, “In Israel the corrupt are removed from politics and go to prison. In Italy they go to parliament.”
Other commentators were critical, “Whmaa!Do the Israeli judges have Milanese origins? Red robes?” In addition to the sheer number of Italian newspapers reporting on the story, the length in Il Corriere (Europe’s highest) and depth notably exceeded other European reports. The far-reaching article tracked Olmert’s defection as prime minister in 2008 amid corruption scandals, and continued with a step-by-step scrutiny of Olmert’s involvement in the “Holyland” building project. His career as a politician was subsequently presented, including his fierce stance against Hezbollah and his decision to strike Syrian targets.
This was contrasted with his outspoken commitment to the peace process; advocating a withdrawal from the West Bank as well as promoting land swaps for peace.
The story did not go unnoticed in Germany either.
The articles in the largest newspapers were characteristically rich with background information in briefs or meta links. While most of the stories shared similar angles, one exception was found in Germany’s second largest newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine, which also vaunts the largest number of foreign correspondents in Germany.
Hans-Christian Rössler, a correspondent in Jerusalem, stretched his story by adding notable Israeli politicians also sentenced for corruption. He wrote: “[Olmert] is not the first politician in the country with a difficult relationship with the law.” Rössler brought up some high-profile politicians such as former finance minister Avraham Hirschson, who was sentenced to prison for an embezzlement conviction, Shas interior minister Aryeh Deri and former health minister Shlomo Benizri, who were found guilty of financial fraud.
While the story received widespread attention in Italy, it passed by largely unnoticed in corruption-free Scandinavia. In Scandinavian dailies, Svenska Dagbladet devoted 114 words, and Expressen just 85. Both are major Swedish dailies. In Finland – a country that northern Europe does not consider a part of Scandinavia – the Olmert story was included in their top major dailies, Iltalehti, characteristically devoting a modest 51 words to his verdict. The other Scandinavian countries followed suit.
Le Figaro, France, March 26 The BDS movement has called for a boycott in conjunction with the announcement that The Rolling Stones will perform in Tel Aviv this summer. To play in Israel would be to show “Sympathy to the Devil,” (a play on the popular song Sympathy for the Devil) according to the proponents of the anti-Israeli movement.
A BDS spokesman called for the band to follow the same principles they had when refusing to play in apartheid South Africa. “We urge The Rolling Stones not to perform in Apartheid Israel, and not to close their eyes to the international law crimes committed against the Palestinian people.” The band will receive €49 million for their first concert ever in Israel.
El País, Spain, March 28 A list of over 5,000 Brazilian surnames, some sounding Sephardi and others unmistakably Brazilian, are circulating in social media. The call addresses what they believe are legitimate rights to get Spanish citizenship.
The backdrop is Spain’s decision to offer citizenship to Sephardi Jews in Israel who were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition. Jewish communities are witnessing a strong pressure from Brazilian Jews who are requesting information and asking if the rumor is true. But Spanish authorities dismiss the effort, claiming the number of immigrants would be too high. Some Brazilians have been able to trace their Jewish roots back to Portugal, when they were forced to change their names in order to assimilate into Christian society. Brazil has a Jewish community of around 110,000.
Deutsche Welle, Germany, March 29
A story that was written in Israeli news outlets on March 17 was picked up in Germany last week. An Israeli doctor treating victims from the raging civil war in Syria is starting to discover a pattern of targeted shootings. In addition to a series of pregnant women who have been found shot in the abdomen, he has found several wounded children with bullets located in the lower part of the spine, an injury that causes complete paralysis. DW met such a child, brought in by IDF personnel. “I’m sure the snipers hit the spine on purpose,” Dr. Yoav Hoffman told the German daily.
“If you want to kill a man, or a child, you put a bullet in his head or heart,” he continued. “They purposely put a bullet in the lumbar spine so the child would suffer.”
At least five of the young Syrians treated by Dr. Hoffman left partially or totally paralyzed from the spinal shots and had to return to Syria in a wheelchairs.
La Stampa, Italy, March 28
The 23,000 residents of Shuafat, the only refugee camp within Jerusalem’s borders, are struggling for drinkable water. While Shuafat’s inhabitants are allowed infrastructure benefits such as access to schools, hospitals and state pensions, managing company Hagihon has drastically decreased the water access due to security concerns.
The reasons are a Molotov cocktail attack against Israeli soldiers, and residents not paying their fees. Khaled al-Khalidi of the people’s committee in Shuafat said: “We are only interested in getting water. How it is to be financed is to be decided by them.” In Shuafat, the water is currently only available for two hours, between midnight and 2 a.m. In the camp, the protesters are usually young, while some senior residents have publicly praised their blue Israeli identity cards, saying [life] is better now than under Jordanian rule.