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A Media Circus Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
July 21, 2008

Morris Talansky, a proud American Jew and an ardent supporter of Israel, could not have foreseen the legalistic nightmare that was awaiting him in the land of his forefathers whose welfare and security mattered to him so much.

Like many of his counterparts in the United States who also adhere to a political tradition that evolved since the Jewish state was established in 1948, he wanted to help Israel without meddling in its politics. Their guiding principle is that those who are not Israeli citizens should stay out of Israel's internal debates and the political issues that evoke them.

Talansky gave money and raised money. He operated in accordance with a time-worn technique used in the American Jewish community: those who donate themselves can solicit donations from others and the more they donate the more they can solicit.

He undoubtedly enjoyed rubbing shoulders with prominent Israelis, especially those, like the incumbent Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who professed to believe in things in which he believed, among them Jewish settlements in the areas taken in the Six-Day War 41 years ago.

To that extent, Talansky deviated from the American-Jewish tradition, and unwittingly, perhaps, did get involved. Talansky's admiration of Olmert was so great that he not only mobilized cash for the ambitious Likud party stalwart, but also lent him additional sums for his private use. When Olmert asked for a loan to cover the cost of a projected vacation in Italy for himself and his family, Talansky came up with the money -- not as much as the then-cabinet minister wanted, but as much as Talansky could afford. It was for $25,000 which never was repaid.

By the way, there reportedly was a precedent for this: In 1993, according to information uncovered by the Israeli police, Olmert asked for a $15,000 loan from a fellow Israeli turned American by the name of Joe Almaliah. According to leaks from police Almaliah has not been reimbursed to date.

The police also let it be known that Talansky delivered more than $100,000 to Olmert in white envelopes, all of it in cash as specified by the recipients -- either Olmert himself, his Israeli secretary, Shula Zaquen, or his former law partner, Uri Messer. Some of it allegedly was siphoned off for Olmert's personal use and the rest was spent on Olmert's election campaigns, especially the one that catapulted him to Jerusalem's mayoralty.

Talansky did not seek any personal favors, except for some contacts that could help him sell the minibars he was trying to market at the time. That attitude did not spare Talansky the ordeal that was in store for him, however. As the police, prompted by the state prosecution, expanded the probe of Olmert's allegedly illicit real estate dealings, politically-motivated civil service appointments, favoritism in facilitating industrial investments and purchase of a major bank, it also came upon the fund-raising scam.

Last month, when Talansky arrived on one of his frequent visits to see members of his family, the police called him in for interrogation. This was followed by several days of public testimony before the Jerusalem District Court and finally, by a gruelling cross examination by lawyers hired by Olmert to demolish his onetime benefactor's credibility and reliability.

Surprisingly, the court agreed to let the cross-examiners project closed circuit TV footage of Talansky's interrogation in which the religious American appeared to be contradicting himself and denying misdeeds attributed to him. All this took place before a nationwide TV audience. There was no criminal indictment (yet), it was not a trial, no specific crimes were specified, but Talansky, who was billed as a "key witness," was the center of attention.

At one point, the head of Olmert's team of "defense attorneys" openly called Talansky,
"a liar." The sessions lasted nine hours at a time. The fact that he was observing the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (commemorating the start of the Romans' siege of Jerusalem) did not warrant a hiatus.

Talansky was on the stand throughout. In all, he had to spend five straight days under relentless and unrestrained cross examination. For most Israelis, this has been a shoddy, unseemly and morally-disgusting affair. It capped the other corruption cases in which their national leader has been involved since he took over from ailing ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his political godfather.

The core of Talansky's testimony stood up -- that he gave money to Olmert without asking receipts and often without detailed records. He undoubtedly will not draw any personal satisfaction that Olmert may resign if a criminal indictment is filed by the attorney-general, as the prime minister pledged he would. Nor will his commitment and dedication to Israel change as a result of the unpleasant experiences of sparring with police interrogators, men and women whose English is below par, and parrying nasty questions by lawyers who are paid to say things in which they do not necessarily believe.

Many if not most Israelis and their Jewish brethren abroad undoubtedly will be relieved when this saga is over, but the proof it provided of unrestrained materialism and infatuation with the so-called good things of life here will be a source of serious concern for a long time to come.

 

 

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