There are two sides to this story. The negative side is that a president, a prime minister and a finance minister have been convicted of criminal offenses. There isn’t another country with such a negative record. Does that make Israel a corrupt state?
This is where the positive side comes in: The rule of law didn’t surrender to any of these masters. They were indicted and convicted. So at the end of the day, as it became clear again Monday, Israel is a law-abiding state.
Ehud Olmert wasn’t just another prime minister. He had added value. He offered the Israeli voter a more refreshing approach. Neither left nor right. Kadima’s election win in 2006 could have been a turning point in Israel’s political history. I admired him those days. I defended him not because I depended on him – I was taken by his charm because he seemed like a tower of sanity.
At the time, at least at the beginning of the road, the claims against Olmert seemed like personal persecution. Maybe blunders, nothing more. Occasionally, I must admit, some of his followers suffered from the repression syndrome. Cash envelopes? That’s impossible. It sounds like a tale. We suffered from blindness. But as time passed, as more details were revealed, we began to see a much more troubling picture.
In the background, there is an inevitable question: Does personal corruption point to flawed leadership? Does personal integrity guarantee an appropriate leadership? Even now, with Olmert’s double conviction lying in front of us, it’s reasonable to assume that corrupt leaders can be excellent leaders, just like politicians who are as pure as snow could lead to a national disaster.
In Olmert’s case, the plot just thickened. As time passed, it turned out that he was not only afflicted with personal corruption, but also with political and diplomatic corruption. At some stage, Olmert informed the Knesset that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to recognize a Jewish state. Abbas was unaware of this change in his position.
It went on even after he left office. Olmert published an article in the New York Times on the exact day that Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered important speeches at the United Nations General Assembly. It turned out that Olmert had ceased to be the sane centrist. In that article, Olmert said that Abbas had actually never turned down his peace initiative. It was a strange claim, to say the least – not just because Abbas himself admitted that he had turned down the offer, but also because Olmert himself had made the opposite claim.
What led to Olmert’s strange change of direction? Why did he rewrite the so recent history? At the time, there were claims that Olmert would do anything to be portrayed as a leftist because maybe, just maybe, it could improve his situation among the judicial elite. As long as there are no recordings, we won’t know if there is any truth in these claims. One thing is clear: It didn’t affect the judicial elite. The court did not show any leniency towards Olmert.
The former prime minister was and will remain a man of contradictions. Very senior officials who worked under him have mostly good things to say about him. He made critical decisions, some controversial. He had military courage, which included – according to foreign sources – erasing a nuclear reactor in Syria. He had diplomatic courage too, although it didn’t lead to an agreement.
Before anyone buries the sane, centrist political way which Olmert symbolized, we should remember that most of his offenses were committed while he was deep in the political right. So Olmert’s job is done. There is no need for political conclusions.
Reprinted with author’s permission from YNet News