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The Olmert Affair Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
May 12, 2008

If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is indicted for bribery, violation of Israel's election law or any of the other illegal activities of which he is suspected, not only he will be in the dock, but also the financial system from which he and some of his predecessors are believed to have benefitted.

His trial, if indeed it takes place, will reveal the bizarre way in which non-Israeli donors and fund raisers have been able to point the Jewish State's political stage in the direction they believe it should go and in so doing, diminish the electorate's ability to determine national policies and objectives.

The geographical spread of foreign benefactors encompasses the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and Australia and may already extend to the Russian Federation.

Their magnanimity is bestowed on secular as well as religious political parties, left-wing and right-wing social movements, such as Peace Now and Gush Emunim (the backbone of the West Bank's Jewish settlements), and B'Tselem (the human rights organization) among others.

It is exemplified in the allegations directed against Morris Talansky, a resident of Woodmere, NY, who reportedly transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars, most if not all of it in cash, to Olmert for disbursement by his former law partner, Uri Messer, with the help of his long-time assistant, Shula Zaquen.

Olmert's declaration, made in a nationwide TV and radio broadcast, that he did not keep any of the money given him by Talansky for himself can be taken at face value.  In other words, he may not have stashed any of it away for his personal use.  It may indeed have been used to cover the cost of his campaign in the Likud party primary or to finance his candidacy for the premiership in the last national election. 

However -- and this is the point -- the electoral successes it helped him achieve and his consequence rise in power from Jerusalem's mayoralty to a junior cabinet post (as minister of industry, trade and employment) to prime minister enabled him to do lucrative favors for his overseas supporters.

Thus, he got what he wanted -- political power and prestige -- and they could avail themselves of his official clout to cut red tape, gain advantages over their business rivals and profit from the results.

Olmert's ordeal was a very long time in coming.  Although four of the cases of alleged corruption were known by local investigative journalists nearly two and a half years ago when he took over from ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- a cut-rate price for the purchase of his expensive home in Jerusalem's German Colony, an inside track for an Australian tycoon interested in buying Bank Leumi, a done deal for his law partner's bid to operate a factory near Dimona and government appointments for his political cronies despite their lack of the competence for same.  Attorney-General Menahem Mazzouz and the Israeli police dragged their feet in investigating all of these dubious affairs.

Even the evidence turned in by State Controller Micha Lindenstrauss, who Olmert vilified, reportedly was ignored by the police for at least four months.  When it finally was examined it evidently was too serious to be pigeon-holed any longer.

Under Israeli law, a prime minister against whom a criminal indictment is served, need not step down.  But Olmert's seemingly altruistic or noble intention to resign under such circumstances may stem from the realization that the leader of a country which constantly asks its young men and women to risk their lives for its defense cannot be a person regarded as a crook by most of its citizens.  A public opinion poll conducted by Mina Zemach for the daily Yediot Aharonot found that 60 per cent of the respondents want Olmert to quit now.

There is a great deal of hypocrisy in this sordid affair.  Olmert did not originate Israel's system of foreign funds for political fortune.  His incumbent defense minister, Ehud Barak, tapped overseas Jewry for his Labor party campaigns with the active assistance of the incumbent welfare minister, Yitzhak "Buji" Herzog.  There were half-hearted efforts to turn their operation into a reason for prosecution, but it faded away.

 

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