Ehud Olmert

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Ehud Olmert
Olmert.jpg
12th Prime Minister of Israel
In office
14 April 2006 – 31 March 2009
Acting: 4 January 2006 – 14 April 2006*
President Moshe Katsav
Shimon Peres
Deputy Tzipi Livni
Preceded by Ariel Sharon
Succeeded by Benjamin Netanyahu
Mayor of Jerusalem
In office
November 1993 – 2003
Preceded by Teddy Kollek
Succeeded by Uri Lupolianski
Personal details
Born (1945-09-30) 30 September 1945 (age 69)
Binyamina-Giv'at Ada, British Mandate of Palestine
Political party Likud (1973–2006)
Kadima (2006–present)
Spouse(s) Aliza Olmert
Children 4
Alma mater Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Religion Judaism
*Under the Basic Laws of Israel, Olmert was only the Interim Prime Minister of Israel (distinct from both forms of Acting Prime Ministers of Israel) from 14 April 2006 to 4 May 2006.[1]

Ehud Olmert (Hebrew: אהוד אולמרט‎, IPA: [eˈhud ˈolmeʁt] ( ); born 30 September 1945) is an Israeli politician and lawyer. He served as Prime Minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009 and before that as a cabinet minister from 1988 to 1992 and from 2003 to 2006. Between his first and second stints as a cabinet member, he served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003.

In 2003 Olmert was re-elected to the Knesset (he had earlier served eight terms), and became a cabinet minister and acting prime minister in the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. On 4 January 2006, after Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke, Olmert began exercising the powers of the office of Prime Minister. Olmert led Kadima to a victory in the March 2006 elections (just two months after Sharon had suffered his stroke), and continued on as Acting Prime Minister. On 14 April, two weeks after the election, Sharon was declared permanently incapacitated, allowing Olmert to legally become Interim Prime Minister. Less than a month later, on 4 May, Olmert and his new, post-election government were approved by the Knesset, thus Olmert officially became prime minister of Israel.

Olmert and his government enjoyed healthy relations with the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority, which culminated in November 2007 at the Annapolis Conference. However, during his tenure as prime minister, there were major military conflicts with both Hezbollah and Hamas (predominately in the Gaza Strip). Olmert and Minister of Defense Amir Peretz were heavily criticized for their handling of the 2006 Lebanon War. In late 2008, a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel ended, which led to the 2008 Israel-Gaza conflict. Olmert declared that the Israeli Defense Force would target the Hamas leadership and infrastructure in the war.

Throughout his premiership, Olmert was accused of corruption. Facing a challenge for the leadership of Kadima from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, on 30 July 2008, Olmert announced that he would not seek re-election as party leader and that he would resign from his position as Prime Minister immediately after a new Kadima leader was named. Livni won the contest and sought to form a new government in September of that year. However, Livni's attempts at forming a new government were unsuccessful, and instead an election was scheduled for February 2009. On 20 February, Israeli President Shimon Peres chose Benjamin Netanyahu to become the new Prime Minister and asked him to form a coalition government, after there was no clear victory in the elections. Netanyahu succeeded Olmert on 31 March 2009.

On 30 August 2009, an indictment against Olmert was served at the Jerusalem District Court. The indictment included the following five criminal counts: obtaining by fraud under aggravating circumstances, fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and tax evasion. The indictment refers to three out of the four corruption-related cases outstanding against him: "Rishon Tours", "Talansky" (also known as the "money envelopes" affair), and the "Investment Center".[2]

In July 2012, he was convicted on one count of "breach of trust" and acquitted on two fraud counts.[3] In March 2014, he was convicted of bribery[4] and he was sentenced in May to six years' imprisonment.[5]

Early life[edit]

Olmert was born near Binyamina in the British Mandate of Palestine. According to Olmert, his parents, Bella (Wagman) and Mordechai Olmert, escaped "persecution in Ukraine and Russia, and found sanctuary in Harbin, China. They emigrated to Israel to fulfill their dream of building a Jewish and democratic state living in peace in the land of our ancestors."[6] His father later became a member of the Knesset for Herut. Olmert's childhood included membership in the Beitar Youth Organization and dealing with the fact that his parents were often blacklisted and alienated due to their affiliation with the Jewish militia group the Irgun. They were also part of Herut, the opposition to the long-ruling Mapai party. However, by the 1970s this was proving less detrimental to one's career than during the 1950s.

Education and military service[edit]

Olmert graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with degrees in psychology, philosophy and law. He opened a successful law partnership in Jerusalem. Olmert served with the Israel Defense Forces in the Golani Brigade.[7] While in service he was injured and temporarily released. He underwent many treatments, and later completed his military duties as a journalist for the IDF magazine BaMahane. During the Yom Kippur War he joined the headquarters of Ariel Sharon as a military correspondent. Already a member of the Knesset, he decided to go through an officer's course in 1980 at the age of 35.

MK and minister[edit]

In 1966, during the Gahal party convention (a predecessor to today's Likud), party leader Menachem Begin was challenged by the young Olmert, who called for his resignation. Begin announced that he would retire from party leadership, but soon reversed his decision when the crowd emotionally pleaded with him to stay. Olmert was first elected to the Knesset in 1973 at the age of 28, and was re-elected seven consecutive times. Between 1981 and 1989, he served as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and served on the Finance, Education and Defense Budget Committees. He served as minister without portfolio, responsible for minority affairs between 1988 and 1990, and as minister of health from 1990 until 1992. Following Likud's defeat in the 1992 election, instead of remaining a Knesset member in the opposition, he successfully ran for mayor of Jerusalem in November 1993.

Mayor of Jerusalem[edit]

Bronze plate situated in the Wire Opera House in Curitiba, Brazil, commemorating Olmert's visit as mayor of Jerusalem

Between 1993 and 2003, Olmert served two terms as mayor of Jerusalem, the first member of Likud or its precursors to hold the position. During his term in office, he devoted himself to the initiation and advancement of major projects in the city, the development and improvement of the education system, and the development of road infrastructure. He also spearheaded the development of the light rail system in Jerusalem, and the investment of millions of shekels in the development of mass transportation options for the city.

While mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert was an invited speaker at an international conflict resolution conference held in Derry, Northern Ireland. In his address, he spoke of how "Political leaders can help change the psychological climate which affects the quality of relationships among people." His speech concluded with reflections on the importance of political process in overcoming differences: "How are fears born? They are born because of differences in tradition and history; they are born because of differences in emotional, political and national circumstances. Because of such differences, people fear they cannot live together. If we are to overcome such fear, a credible and healthy political process must be carefully and painfully developed. A political process that does not aim to change the other or to overcome differences, but that allows each side to live peacefully in spite of their differences."[8]

Deputy leader of Israel[edit]

Olmert was elected as a member of the sixteenth Knesset in January 2003. He served as the head of the election campaign for Likud in the elections, and subsequently was the chief negotiator of the coalition agreement. Following the elections he was appointed as Designated Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. From 2003 to 2004, he also served as Minister of Communications.

On 7 August 2005, Olmert was appointed acting finance minister, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu, who had resigned in protest against the planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.[9] Olmert, who had originally opposed withdrawing from land captured in the Six-Day War, and who had voted against the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978, was a vocal supporter of the Gaza pullout. After his appointment, Olmert said:

I voted against Menachem Begin, I told him it was a historic mistake, how dangerous it would be, and so on and so on. Now I am sorry he is not alive for me to be able to publicly recognize his wisdom and my mistake. He was right and I was wrong. Thank God we pulled out of the Sinai.[10]

When Sharon announced he was leaving Likud to form a new party, Kadima, Olmert was one of the first to join him.

Acting prime minister[edit]

On 4 January 2006, as the designated Acting Prime Minister, Olmert became Acting Prime Minister as a result of the serious stroke suffered by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This occurred after consultations took place between Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who declared Sharon "temporarily incapable to carry out the duties of his office", while only officially in office. Then, Olmert and the cabinet reaffirmed in an announcement that the 28 March elections would be held as scheduled. During the days following the stroke, Olmert met with Shimon Peres and other Sharon supporters to try to convince them to stay with Kadima, rather than return to Likud or, in Peres' case, Labor. On 16 January 2006 Olmert was elected chairman of Kadima, and Kadima's candidate for prime minister in the upcoming election.[11] In his first major policy address after becoming caretaker Prime Minister, on 24 January 2006 Olmert stated that he backed the creation of a Palestinian state, and that Israel would have to relinquish parts of the West Bank to maintain its Jewish majority. At the same time, he said, "We firmly stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire Land of Israel."[12] In a number of interviews he also introduced his Realignment plan, which would see Israel unilaterally withdraw from most of the West Bank and redraw its borders to incorporate major settlement blocs into Israel. The plan was shelved following the 2006 Lebanon War.

Following the March 2006 election, Kadima won 29 seats, making it the largest party. On 6 April Olmert was officially asked by President Moshe Katsav to form a government. Olmert had an initial period of 28 days to form a governing coalition, with a possible two-week extension. On 11 April the Israeli Cabinet deemed that Sharon was incapacitated. The 100-day replacement deadline was extended due to the Jewish festival of Passover, and a provision was made that, should Sharon's condition improve between 11 and 14 April, the declaration would not take effect. Therefore, the official declaration took effect on 14 April, formally ending Sharon's term as prime minister and making Olmert the country's new Interim Prime Minister in office (he would not become the official prime minister until he formed a government).

Prime minister[edit]

Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush

On 4 May 2006 Olmert presented his new government to the Knesset. Olmert became prime minister and minister for welfare. Control over the Welfare Ministry was expected to be given to United Torah Judaism if it would join the government. The post was later given to Labor's Isaac Herzog. Olmert took over as acting prime minister of Israel after Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke.

Addresses U.S. Congress[edit]

On 24 May 2006 Olmert was invited to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress.[13] He stated that his government would proceed with the disengagement plan if it could not come to agreement with the Palestinians. Olmert was the third Israeli prime minister to have been invited to speak at a joint session of Congress.

2006 Lebanon War[edit]

Further information: 2006 Lebanon War

Loses popularity, controversial statements[edit]

Following the 2006 Lebanon War, Olmert's popularity ratings fell and, on 15 September 2006, former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon publicly stated that Olmert should resign. In May 2007, Olmert's approval rating fell to 3 percent,[14] and he became the subject of a Google Bomb for the Hebrew for "miserable failure".[15]

Ehud Olmert meets with Condoleezza Rice and Mahmoud Abbas.

On 9 December 2006 Olmert stated that he could not rule out the possibility of a military attack against Iran, and called for the international community to step up action against that country. He called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to destroy Israel "absolutely criminal", and said that he expected "more dramatic steps to be taken". In an interview with German TV network Sat.1 on 11 December 2006, Olmert included Israel in a list of nuclear powers, saying: "Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly, threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel and Russia?". He immediately attempted to backtrack, insisting that Israel's doggedly held position of nuclear weapons ambiguity had not changed.[16][17] He nonetheless came under harsh criticism from both ends of the Israeli political spectrum due to the perceived threat to Israel's policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear status.[18][19] On 2 May 2007, the Winograd Commission accused Olmert of failing to properly manage the 2006 Lebanese War,[20] which prompted a mass rally of over 100,000 people calling for his resignation.[21]

Annapolis peace talks[edit]

Olmert welcomed the Arab League's 2007 re-endorsement of the Arab Peace Initiative. Olmert wrote in The Guardian newspaper that Israel was ready to make "painful concessions" to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

"I take the offer of full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world seriously; and I am ready to discuss the Arab peace initiative in an open and sincere manner. Working with our Jordanian and Egyptian partners, and hopefully other Arab states, we must pursue a comprehensive peace with energy and vision.... But the talks must be a discussion, not an ultimatum."[22] On 4 November 2007, he declared Israel's intention to negotiate with the Palestinians about all issues, stating, "Annapolis will be the jumping-off point for continued serious and in-depth negotiations, which will not avoid any issue or ignore any division that has clouded our relations with the Palestinian people for many years."[23] On 29 November 2007, he warned of the end of Israel in case a two-state solution is not eventually found for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished", Olmert said on the last day of the Annapolis Conference. "The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us", Olmert said, "because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents".[24]

During the talks, Olmert agreed that Israel would share Jerusalem as the joint capital of Israel and a Palestinian state and hand over its holy sites to a multinational committee, land swaps that would allow Israel to keep its major settlement blocs in the West Bank, the construction of a tunnel connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a demilitarized Palestinian state with an American-led international security force stationed on the Palestinian–Jordanian border. Both sides disagreed over how much land would be exchanged in the swaps, with Olmert demanding at least 5.9% of the West Bank and Abbas offering 1.9%. According to the "Palestine Papers," Israel and the Palestinians agreed that Israel would accept 10,000 refugees. In his memoirs, Olmert wrote that he agreed Israel would generously compensate the remaining refugees. Olmert later stated that U.S. President George W. Bush offered to accept another 100,000 refugees as American citizens if a peace agreement was signed. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in her memoirs that the Palestinians demanded they be allowed to negotiate additional "returns" to Israel following the peace deal, insisting that the right of return was a matter of individual choice that would ultimately have to apply to every refugee. In his memoirs, Olmert claimed that he and Abbas were very close to an agreement, but Abbas' hesitation, Olmert's legal troubles, and the Gaza War caused the talks to end. President Bush wrote in his memoirs that the talks broke down when Olmert announced that he would resign from office, and Abbas then broke off the talks and refused to finalize an agreement on the grounds that he did not want to sign a peace deal with a Prime Minister on his way out of office.[25][26][27][28][29][30]

During at least two meetings, Olmert made a secret promise to Abbas: Once a prisoner exchange deal for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was finalized with Hamas, Israel would bolster Abbas' government by releasing Fatah prisoners. After a prisoner exchange deal was agreed upon in 2011 under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Olmert's successor, Palestinian officials demanded that Netanyahu live up to Olmert's promise and release Fatah prisoners.[31][32]

Operation Orchard[edit]

Further information: Operation Orchard

On 6 September 2007, Israel launched Operation Orchard, an airstrike against a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria, allegedly being built with North Korean and Iranian assistance. The strike was preceded by years of covert operations by Israeli special forces and the Mossad. Details of the strike were censored in Israel, and the attack was not confirmed to have taken place until 2 October. Following the attack, Olmert's approval rating rose to 35%.

President Bush wrote in his memoirs that Olmert had first asked him to bomb the facility, but ordered the attack after Bush refused and told him that he would prefer diplomatic action and sanctions. Following the strike, Bush claimed to have suggested to Olmert to hide the strike for a while and then make it public as a way to isolate the Syrian regime, but Olmert asked for total secrecy, wanting to avoid anything that could force Syria to retaliate.[26] However, Israeli columnist Caroline Glick wrote that Israel had bowed to US demands in concealing the airstrike.[33]

Negotiations with Syria[edit]

In May 2008, Israel opened Turkish-brokered indirect peace talks with Syria. Olmert stated that the resumption of peace talks with Syria was a national obligation that must be tried.[34] However, Syria broke off the talks several months later in response to the Gaza War.[35]

Gaza rocket attacks increase[edit]

Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Israel occurred frequently throughout the spring and summer of 2008, until a ceasefire was agreed between Hamas and Israel in June. Rocket attacks increased sharply in November after an Israeli raid on an Hamas-built smuggling tunnel.[36] The ceasefire expired in December 2008 and negotiations stalled between the two parties to renew the ceasefire. On 24 December, the Negev was hit by more than 60 mortar shells and Katyusha and Qassam rockets, and the IDF was given a green light to operate.[37] Hamas claimed to have fired a total of 87 rockets and mortar rounds that day at Israel, code-naming the firing "Operation Oil Stain".[38]

IDF bombs, invades Gaza[edit]

Further information: Operation Cast Lead

On 25 December 2008, Olmert delivered a "last minute" warning to Gaza in direct appeal to Gaza's people via the Arabic language satellite channel al-Arabiya, to pressure their leaders to stop the rocket barrages. "I am telling them now, it may be the last minute, I'm telling them stop it. We are stronger", he said.[39] The attacks did not stop and Israel launched its military operation, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, on the morning of 27 December, when more than 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters began to bomb strategic targets. Air and naval strikes continued for days, when on 3 January 2009 the IDF began a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The fighting lasted 22 days until a ceasefire came into effect. Israel subsequently withdrew from Gaza.

On 1 February 2009, Olmert stated:

Controversial UN vote[edit]

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on 8 January 2009 calling for an immediate ceasefire to the hostilities in the Gaza Strip. It passed 14–0–1, with one abstention from the United States. Olmert told reporters, "[U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] was left shamed. A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favor. In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the Secretary of State wanted to lead the vote on a ceasefire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favor. I said 'get me President Bush on the phone'. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care. 'I need to talk to him now'. He got off the podium and spoke to me. I told him the United States could not vote in favor. It cannot vote in favor of such a resolution. He immediately called the Secretary of State and told her not to vote in favor."[42] When asked about the comments, a White House spokesman said that Olmert's version of events was "inaccurate".[43]

The war finally ended on 18 January 2009. A day before, Israeli officials announced a unilateral ceasefire, without an agreement with Hamas. In a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert declared the ceasefire effective that night, at 00:00 GMT on 18 January.

Stepping down[edit]

On 30 July 2008 Olmert announced that he would not contest the Kadima party leadership election in September and would resign from office once his party elects a new leader.[44][45] In his resignation speech, he addressed the cases of corruption of which he is being accused, saying he is "proud to be a citizen of a country in which a Prime Minister can be investigated like any other citizen", but also stated he "was forced to defend [himself] from ceaseless attacks by the self-appointed soldiers of justice, who sought to oust [him] from [his] position".[45] The move has been interpreted as signaling the end of Olmert's political career.[46]

Many politicians across the political spectrum praised Olmert's decision to resign. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said "the personal decision was not simple, but it was a correct one. Kadima must continue to act in a way that will preserve its unity and ability to lead."[47] Defense minister and Labor party leader Ehud Barak called Olmert's announcement "a proper and responsible decision made at the right time".[47] Opposition leaders called for the resignation to be followed by general elections. Likud party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, called for snap elections: "It doesn't matter who heads Kadima. They are all partners in this government's total failure. National responsibility requires a return to the people and new elections."[48]

After Tzipi Livni won the leadership election, Olmert officially resigned but remained prime minister, according to the dictates of the law. Even after an official resignation, he remains in power until a new prime minister is sworn in, in order to prevent a government void.[1] Livni tried unsuccessfully to form a new coalition government. After Livni announced she could not form the new government, new parliamentary elections were set for 10 February 2009, and Olmert remained in power until after the elections, just as the law dictates.[1]

Corruption and bribery criminal investigations[edit]

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Olmert was subjected to a string of corruption allegations that resulted in multiple police investigations. According to Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, the repeated investigations led some to believe that Olmert was corrupt but a master at covering his tracks, while others believed that the authorities were simply obsessed with harassing him.[49]

On 7 March 2006, it was disclosed that an inquiry was being carried out on the 1999 sale and lease-back of a Jerusalem property purchased by Olmert in 2004, which allegedly was done on financial terms very favorable to Olmert, in what would amount to an illegal campaign contribution and/or bribe.[50] Olmert was alleged to have paid $325,000 below market value.[51] A criminal investigation regarding the matter was formally launched on 24 September 2007.[52] The investigation closed in August 2009 due to lack of evidence.[51]

On 16 January 2007, a criminal investigation was initiated against Olmert. The investigation focused on suspicions that during his tenure as finance minister, Olmert tried to steer the tender for the sale of Bank Leumi in order to help Slovak-born Australian real estate baron Frank Lowy, a close personal associate.[53] Israeli Finance Ministry Accountant General Dr. Yaron Zelicha was as a key witness, according to the State Comptroller's office. The state comptroller testified against Olmert.[54] Israeli Police who investigated the case eventually concluded that the evidence that was collected was insufficient for indictment, and no recommendations were made to press charges.[55] In October 2007, he was questioned for five hours by three officers from the National Fraud Investigations Unit in his Jerusalem residence.[56] State Prosecutor Moshe Lador closed the case in December 2008 due to lack of evidence.[57]

In April 2007 it was further alleged that, during his office as Minister of Trade, Industry and Labor, Olmert may have been guilty of criminal behavior by taking an active part in an investment center.[58] Prosecutors said that Olmert placed himself in a conflict of interest by personally dealing with issues involving business figures represented by his friend and former business partner, lawyer Uri Messer. Olmert was alleged to have changed some decisions made by his ministry in their favor.[51] During a parliamentary inquest in July 2007, Olmert flatly denied these accusations.[59]

In October 2007, Attorney General Mazuz ordered a police investigation into allegations that Olmert, when he held the positions of trade minister, communications minister and finance minister, had improperly appointed associates from the Likud party to posts on government bodies. Police completed their investigation in 2009, and concluded that there was a basis to indict Olmert and others for fraud and breach of trust.[51]

In July 2008, Haaretz wrote that in 1992, Olmert took a loan from U.S. businessman Joe Almaliah, but never repaid it, and concealed the true size of the loan from the State Comptroller. In March 2003, State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg asked Olmert to submit the wealth-declaration statement required of all cabinet ministers. Olmert disclosed that he had taken a loan from Almaliah, but did not say when it was due. In 2004, Olmert conceded that he had taken $75,000, and stressed that Almaliah had not asked for repayment of the loan. At Goldberg's insistence, Olmert signed a contract with Almaliah undertaking to repay the loan in January 2009. According to an indictment, Olmert had actually taken another $100,000 from Almaliah, which was deposited into his personal bank account. The State Prosecutor's office said that it was not aware of Olmert's repayment of either loan.[60]

Bribery investigation[edit]

In May 2008, it became public that Olmert was the subject of another police investigation, concerning allegations of bribery.[61][62] Olmert said that he took campaign contributions from Jewish-American businessman Morris Talansky when he was running for mayor of Jerusalem, leadership of the Likud and candidacy in the Likud list for the Knesset. It was alleged that Olmert unlawfully received millions of shekels in illegal campaign funding from Talansky over a 15-year period. Olmert resisted calls to resign, and stated: "I never took bribes, I never took a penny for myself. I was elected by you, citizens of Israel, to be the Prime Minister and I don't intend to shirk this responsibility. If Attorney General Meni Mazuz, decides to file an indictment, I will resign from my position, even though the law does not oblige me to do so."[63][64] On 2 May, head of the National Fraud Investigations Unit Brigadier-General Shlomi Ayalon and two investigatiors questioned Olmert for 90 minutes in his Jerusalem residence.[65] On 23 May, National Fraud Investigations Unit officers interrogated Olmert for an hour in his Jerusalem residence. On 27 May, Talansky testified in court that over the last 15 years he gave Olmert more than $150,000 in cash in envelopes to fund political campaigns, and hinted that Olmert also used the money for fine hotels, cigars, pens and watches. On 6 September 2008, the Israel Police recommended that criminal charges should be brought against Olmert.[51][66] In their indictment, prosecutors claimed that Olmert had received some $600,000 from Talansky in either cash or bank transfers, and that $350,000 of this was held in a "secret cache" managed by Olmert's close associate Uri Messer. The prosecution also claimed that Olmert used his official capacity as minister of trade and industry to facilitate introductions with hotel managers for Talansky, a partner in a firm providing mini-bars for hotels. It was alleged that Olmert sometimes used official letterheads. The charge sheet said that Olmert was aware he was in an "acute conflict of interest".[51]

On 26 November 2008, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz informed Olmert that he decided to file an indictment against him in what has come to be known as "Rishon Tours" affair, pending a hearing before Mazuz. The scheme allegedly worked as follows: Olmert would speak abroad on behalf of groups such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a support group for the Israel Defense Forces or a charity for mentally disabled Israeli children. Rishon Tours then billed each group for the same trip as if they alone were paying, and placed the money in a special bank account allegedly for Olmert's personal use. Prosecutors charged that Olmert had gained $92,164.[51][67][68]

On 1 March 2009, Attorney General Mazuz informed Olmert's legal representatives that he had decided to file an indictment against him, in what has come to be known as the "cash envelopes" affair, pending a hearing before the attorney general.[69]

In 2010, it was cleared for publication that the National Fraud Investigations Unit suspected Olmert of involvement in the "Holyland Affair", where officials took bribes in exchange for promoting real estate projects, especially the Holyland real estate development project in southwest Jerusalem, which was allowed to grow 1,200% beyond the limit authorized. As Mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert allegedly took thousands of shekels in bribe money from businessmen, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders.[70]

Indictments, trials and criminal convictions[edit]

On 30 August 2009, an indictment against Olmert was served at the Jerusalem District Court. The indictment includes the following counts: obtaining by fraud under aggravating circumstances, fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and tax evasion. The indictment refers to three out of the four corruption-related cases standing against him: "Rishon Tours", "Talansky" (also known as the "money envelopes" affair), and the "Investment Center".[2] This was the first indictment of someone who has ever held the office of Israeli Prime Minister.[71] On 25 September 2009, Olmert's trial opened.[72] The court began hearing testimonies on 22 February 2010, with three discussions per week.[73] The prosecution began arguing its case at the beginning of the trial, and the prosecution phase ended on 30 March 2011.[74] The defense phase began on 31 May, and they began with Olmert testifying in his own defense.[75] On 30 June, the prosecution began a cross-examination on the various charges.[76]

In January 2012, Olmert was indicted for taking bribes over the Holyland affair. The indictment was filed in the Tel Aviv District Court.[77][78] After Olmert began accusing his secretary, Shula Zaken, of committing the crimes he was charged with, Zaken began negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors.[79] In late March 2014, prosecutors signed a plea bargain with Zaken, under which she would plead guilty, and prosecutors would not request a prison term longer than 11 months. As part of the plea bargain, Zaken agreed to provide evidence and testify against Olmert as a state's witness.[80]

On 10 July 2012, Olmert was convicted on one count of breach of trust over the investment center case, but exonerated over the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs.[3][81] In September 2012, he was given a one-year suspended sentence and a fine of NIS 75,000 ($21,000).[4]

On 31 March 2014, five years to the day after he was replaced by Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister, Olmert was convicted of bribery over the Holyland affair by Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rosen, who ruled that he had accepted 560,000 NIS (~$160,000 USD) while serving as mayor of Jerusalem, and had lied about it in court.[4][82] Olmert and eight other defendants, including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner, were convicted of accepting bribes in exchange for helping land developers receive municipality licenses for the Holyland Park residential project in the city.[83][84][85]

Olmert's sentencing hearing began on 28 April 2014.[86][87] On 13 May 2014, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison and fined NIS 1.5 million ($430,000).[88] He was ordered to report to prison on 1 September to begin serving his sentence.[89]

In addition to the Holyland affair, Zaken provided new evidence against Olmert in the Talansky and Rishon tours affairs. Olmert and his lawyers were subsequently questioned by police on suspicion of obstruction of justice and witness tampering.[90][91][92] Following an investigation, police announced that there was sufficient evidence to indict Olmert for obstruction of justice.[93] On August 7, 2014, following Zaken's testimony, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered a retrial of Olmert in the Talansky case.[94]

Personal life[edit]

Olmert's wife, Aliza, is a writer of novels and theater plays, as well as an artist. Aliza is more left-leaning in her politics than her husband. She claimed to have voted for him for the first time in 2006.[95]

The couple has four biological children and an adopted daughter.[96] The oldest daughter, Michal, holds a master's in psychology and leads workshops in creative thinking. Another daughter Dana is a lecturer in literature at the Tel Aviv University, and the editor of a literature series. She is a lesbian and lives with her partner in Tel Aviv. Her parents are accepting of her sexual orientation and partner. Dana is active in the Jerusalem branch of the Israeli human rights organization Machsom Watch. In June 2006 she attended a march in Tel Aviv protesting alleged Israeli complicity in the Gaza beach blast, which made her the subject of bitter criticism from right-wing personalities.[97]

Their son Shaul Olmert married an Israeli artist, and lives in New York. He is currently a vice president at Nickelodeon. After Shaul had finished his military service, he signed a petition of the Israeli left-wing organization Yesh Gvul. He later became the spokesman of Beitar Jerusalem, his father's favorite soccer team.[98][99] This team is often associated with the Israeli right.[citation needed] Olmert's younger son Ariel, who did not serve in the IDF,[citation needed] studies French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris.[citation needed] Shuli is the Olmerts' adopted daughter; she was orphaned from her mother at birth.[citation needed]

Olmert's father Mordechai, a pioneer of Israel's land settlement and a former member of the Second and Third Knessets, grew up in the Chinese city of Harbin, where he led the local Betar youth movement. Olmert's grandfather J. J. Olmert settled in Harbin after fleeing post-World War I Russia.[100] In 2004, Olmert visited China and paid his respects at the tomb of his grandfather in Harbin. Olmert said that his father had never forgotten his Chinese hometown after moving to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine, in 1933 at the age of 22. "When he died at the age of 88, he spoke his last words in Mandarin Chinese", he recalled.[101]

In October 2007, Olmert announced that he had prostate cancer. His doctors declared it to be a minor risk.[102] In April 2009, Olmert's spokesman issued a statement indicating that Olmert's cancer had deteriorated.[103]

In 2009, Olmert spoke at various colleges throughout the United States to mixed receptions.[104] In October 2009, he visited Magnolia, Arkansas, and spoke about Israeli farming, technology and Israel's view on Iran. The speech was given at Southern Arkansas University, where he also invited the rural university to form a partnership with Israel's Hebrew University of Jerusalem.[105]

In 2012, he expressed opposition to a military strike on Iran.[106]

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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister of Israel
2006–2009
Succeeded by
Benjamin Netanyahu
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ariel Sharon
Leader of Kadima
2006–2008
Succeeded by
Tzipi Livni