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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Puttin' on the Ritz for Olmert

The New York Times has more details of Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert's relationship with 'fund raiser' Morris (Moshe) Talansky, including the little matter of a night Olmert spent at the Ritz Carlton in Washington DC (pictured) that cost $4717.49 at Talansky's company's expense.
New details about Mr. Talansky’s relationship with Mr. Olmert are emerging from court records in New York, including papers filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau County in connection with a business dispute between Mr. Talansky and a minibar company he helped back in 2005.

According to the papers, Mr. Talansky had the company pick up a $4,717.49 hotel tab incurred at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington by “a senior Israeli cabinet member that had no relation to the business.”

In an interview, the company’s lawyer, William J. Davis, said the hotel guest during that one-night stay in 2005 was Mr. Olmert. He said he had no idea if Mr. Olmert was aware of who ultimately paid the bill.
If Olmert 'didn't know' who paid the bill, does that make it not a bribe? I wonder whether that hotel room violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the United States.

The Times goes on to give the impression that everyone other than Olmert understands that things can't go on the way they are. The problem is that reality has not sunk into the Knesset yet, where 64 MK's are more interested in preserving their positions than they are in the good of the country.
Shalom Yerushalmi, a commentator for the newspaper Maariv, wrote Friday that Mr. Olmert might have trouble explaining away his ties to Mr. Talansky. While the prime minister is asking to be believed, Mr. Yerushalmi wrote: “If the public could respond collectively, it would, of course, ask: ‘Why? For how many years can we hear about your escapades with the police and go on believing you?’ ”

Numerous analysts argued that Israel’s intense security challenges could not be met effectively by a leader with such low public support. Peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which President Bush is hoping to advance by visiting here next week, and moves toward Syria require hard decisions, especially in the wake of Hezbollah’s takeover of much of western Beirut on Friday.

“Until now, Olmert was threatened but surviving, and it seemed he needed the peace negotiations as a source of strength, which Palestinian negotiators appreciated,” said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian lecturer in cultural studies at Bir Zeit University. “But now it feels like he is headed out, and that is very bad news for the negotiations. For Hamas, of course, which has long said the peace talks were useless, this will be a plus, another chance to say, ‘I told you so.’ ”

Abraham Friedman, a former civil service commissioner and the current dean of management studies at the Center for Academic Studies in Or Yehuda, said that both right and left had reasons to seek Olmert’s departure — but different ones.

“On the right, they are afraid that he is so desperate that he will be willing to agree with the Syrians on things he wouldn’t otherwise,” he said. “On the left, they may want the peace to move forward, but they have made a big issue of fighting corruption in government. So the pressure is from both sides.”

Yuval Steinitz, a member of the opposition Likud Party in Parliament, took the opportunity to condemn the entire foreign policy of Mr. Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.

“Today we can see clearly that Olmert and Livni deluded us and maybe themselves when, after the second Lebanon war two years ago, they said that Hezbollah had become much weaker,” he said. “Today we see it was a lie.” [Actually, Yuval, a lot of us saw it then. CiJ]

In that monthlong war, Israel fought Hezbollah, a group which, like Hamas in Gaza, is heavily supported by Iran and seeks Israel’s destruction.

“We may end up with an Iranian ministate in Lebanon as well as one in Gaza, and the political trouble in Jerusalem makes it much harder for Israel to react as it should,” Mr. Steinitz said. “But of course this is not just a problem for Israel but for the whole Western world, especially the United States and France.”

In theory, even if Mr. Olmert stepped down, the government could continue under Ms. Livni. [Unfortunately, that is more than theory. For the senior echelon of Kadima, it's the preferred solution. And it's also the preferred solution for Ehud Barak, who believes that Livni would crash and burn as Prime Minister - and is willing to put the country through it anyway so that he can have another shot at the position. CiJ].

Regarding the talks with the Palestinians, Asher Arian, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said Mr. Olmert’s situation was paradoxical. If it is harder for Mr. Olmert to make peace, there remains the possibility of his making war, a major incursion into Gaza, for example, that could unify an Israel faced with border attacks.

But that seemed even less likely because taking soldiers to war requires an esteemed leader.

“Constitutionally, of course, he has the legitimacy,” Mr. Arian said. “Morally, it’s a problem.”
The problem is that the Knesset is a very immoral place. Over the weekend, David Horovitz wrote a letter to Olmert in his Post column in which he urged Olmert to resign rather than putting the country through the trauma of a trial.
We do not yet know, Mr. Olmert, whether the concerns and accusations over which you and some of your associates are being questioned in these turbulent days sink to the level of criminality. We do not yet know whether they constitute offenses for which you should be stripped of office and prosecuted. We do not know whether the high drama of these interrogations-under-caution and these court-ordered reporting gags will give way to damning public testimony and the end of your lengthy and stellar career in public office. Perhaps this mountain of speculation will deflate to a minor infraction, or prove to have been founded upon a terrible misunderstanding, or turn out to be malicious falsehood that can be cleared away by an entirely innocent explanation.

We do not know. But you do, Mr. Olmert.

That the case has exploded - with its details forcibly constrained by the courts - precisely in the days when Israel marks, first, the terrible loss of the 22,437 of our people who fell in its defense, and then the celebration of our 60 years of independence, only underlines the dizzyingly high stakes in this corruption investigation. Not so much for you, Mr. Olmert, as for us, your constituents.

We Israelis have endured an awful lot of abuse by those in whom we chose to entrust responsibility for our leadership in recent years.

A succession of political leaders have been unjustly plagued by police investigation and had their reputations sullied by accusations that turned out not to merit their convictions or even their indictments. But others have been proven guilty. Some have escaped in what have seemed to be highly troubling circumstances. And several more, most notably your own long-time ally and former finance minister, Avraham Hirchson, are currently fighting particularly grave allegations. [Hirschson has been indicted for stuffing thousands of dollars into his own pocket that belonged to a union he was managing. CiJ]

In their defenses, some of these public figures have stooped lower than could have been conceived, invoking purported ethnic biases and claiming to have been the victims of police, judicial and media prejudice and corruption.

The most notable and despicable example, of course, is that of our former president, Moshe Katsav. He had risen silkily to the very top of our partisan political hierarchy, and then attained the office whose prime function is to symbolize everything that is best about our society, our values and our aspirations. Whether he is ultimately cleared or convicted, he egregiously broke his contract with his people by flailing viciously at most every institution of Israel's democracy in an attempt to save his skin, potentially undermining his citizenry's trust in the instruments of rule he was charged as president with protecting and championing.

But as you must recognize acutely, day in and day out in your terrifyingly responsible position, Mr. Olmert, the sight of the emblematic state president removing all dignity from that office as he assailed his accusers was a side-show. Your job is the centerpiece. The role of president in Israel is thoroughly marginal. Yours, for us, is everything.
I suggest that you read the whole thing. Having heard Horovitz speak when I was in Boston in March, I can actually hear him reciting this letter to Olmert perfectly calmly and with the proper diction used in his native London. But unfortunately, his letter is hopelessly naive. It assumes that Olmert has morals and a conscience. Olmert has none of the above.

But the most ironic thing in this whole 'debate' is the silence of the senior ministers from Kadima, all of whom were licking their chops less than two months ago to lambaste Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu for spending his summer vacation in a hotel suite paid for by a Manchester (England) Jewish leader while defending Olmert's war in Lebanon. You can bet that none of them will have a word to say about the cost of Olmert's hotel in Washington. They're all closing their eyes and hoping that Ehud Korruption Olmert will just go away. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.


At 5:06 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Its instructive to compare Ehud Olmert's behavior with that of Yitzhak Rabin's in the 1970s who resigned when it emerged he had illegal bank accounts in Washington while serving as Ambassador there. And he didn't wait for an indictment to leave office. He put the country's welfare first. Olmert's principle seems to be to challenge the government to prove a negative rather than live up to the highest standards expected of someone who leads the government.

Has Israel been better governed since the 1970s? Olmert's one contribution to Israel political life has been to turn ethics and accountability into a running joke.


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