Another Tack: What if his name was Bibi?

I couldn’t help rubbing my eyes in disbelief at the joyful celebrations which greeted former premier Ehud Olmert’s acquittal in two corruption cases and the simultaneous belittling of his conviction on a third – what his cheerleaders portrayed as the “minor” matter of breach of trust.

I couldn’t help wondering whether the same reactions could have been remotely conceivable had the defendant been named Binyamin Netanyahu.

I vividly recalled when the “breach of trust” innuendo was hurled accusingly at Netanyahu, not after a courtroom verdict but after the prosecution admitted it had no case to at all take to trial. That in no way prevented a raging tempest from ominously swirling around Netanyahu.

In diametrical discrepancy to the Olmert phenomenon, there were no orchestrated (or other) compunctions about attempts to bring down a serving prime minister at the outset of his term. Nobody dared suggest adoption of the French law which shields PMs in office from investigation and prosecution. In fact, keeping Netanyahu from his weighty duties was deemed a laudable objective.

If anything, the prevailing bon ton dictated that it was a darn shame Bibi wasn’t hauled off to court, summarily tried, convicted and ignominiously booted out. To hear trendsetters, that was what he deserved because the prosecutors, who estimated that they didn’t have the goods on him, nevertheless rebuked him for supposed intentions which they admitted they couldn’t prove. That alone sufficed to pillory Netanyahu.

And woe to anyone who dared not toe the line.

During my many years in political journalism, I faced often ruthless, crude and undisguised pressure. It was little wonder. I persistently rubbed against the ideological grain of the then-leftwing Jerusalem Post, inevitably to my own detriment. But nothing was as highhanded and hostile as what I encountered in April 1997, after the prosecution declined to charge Netanyahu (for allegedly appointing Ronnie Bar-On as attorney-general with the understanding that he’d go soft on Arye Deri, who’d in turn support Netanyahu on Hebron).

The Bibi-baiting media spun the spin with unprecedented gusto and embellished its own conjectures with incomparable relish. The rampant innuendo spawned ever-more speculation and unbridled insinuations were presented as an airtight case. Imagine the frustration when, despite all this, the prosecution concluded that there just wasn’t any real evidence to warrant so much as an indictment.

In no time bitter disappointment burgeoned into a vituperative backlash. Anyone who craved a modicum of popularity and three seconds of limelight joined the Bibi-bashing chorus. Meretz leader Yossi Sarid sought to comfort the lamenting Left by solemnly pronouncing Netanyahu’s government dead.

That inspired me to write a Friday opinion piece, arguing that “Sarid may have only given voice to his wishful thinking. He did not check for vital signs.” I stayed deliberately away from value judgment, opting to coolly analyze the balance of power, forces at play and Netanyahu’s survival prospects.

In hindsight, I can now note with satisfaction that I was dead right in my every prediction. But at the time, my forecasts were received with open dismay by my bosses. The upshot was that entire paragraphs were added without my foreknowledge or permission to my copy, under my byline.

And so, as far as my readers were concerned, I had concurred that “a serious and criminal breach of trust had occurred,” even if it didn’t ripen into a charge, never mind a conviction. My failure “to cooperate” and vent about the unproven breach of trust became an indelible blemish on my reputation. How could anyone of minimally upright character refuse to denounce and revile Netanyahu?

The visceral de rigueur animosity against Netanyahu became eerily reminiscent of the organized loathing in George Orwell’s 1984 for Big Brother’s arch-antagonist, who was castigated regularly on the official “telescreen” daily “Two Minutes of Hate” feature, till his very image evoked hisses and reactions of “mingled fear and disgust.”

Considering that Netanyahu – without having ever been tried – couldn’t escape censure and scorn, it’s all the more mind-blowing that Olmert is feted after he was found guilty on one charge and escaped conviction on two others, not because the judges contested the facts but because of their subjective impression about his intent.

Israeli jurists, it needs be stressed, pride themselves on their extrasensory psychic aptitudes.

Thus Margalit Har-Shefi, just 19-yearsold at the time, was arrested after the Rabin assassination in 1995 because she was Yigal Amir’s classmate and friend. The prosecution alleged she knew of his intentions yet failed to phone the police. Eventually she was tried, convicted and imprisoned for the rarely prosecuted offense of “not preventing a crime.”

Throughout, she vehemently denied advance knowledge about the assassination. The majority of judges, apparently having accessed her innermost consciousness, ruled otherwise. It was her word against their opinion. Although there wasn’t a shred of evidence against her, she became a despised public enemy.

Both former Shin Bet chiefs Carmi Gillon and Ami Ayalon would years later own up that she wasn’t guilty. But our opinion-molders couldn’t care less, not even when Ayalon boasted in 2007 that he possessed “intelligence information” clearly establishing that “Har-Shefi didn’t imagine what Amir planned. I know – I was Shin Bet head.” Still, pleas to accord her a retrial were flatly rejected and media hotshots bristled resentfully at the very suggestion that Har-Shefi might be exonerated.

Our judiciary’s presumption to know with preternatural penetrating infallibility what evil lurks (or doesn’t) in the hearts of men is dangerous not only regarding the rights of politically disliked defendants. It’s also dangerous to the well-being of our civic society, our democracy and such notions as equality before the law.

In Olmert’s cases, the judges don’t dispute that money changed hands between American businessman Morris Talansky and Olmert or that he double-billed charities on his air journeys (this isn’t innuendo but boldly asserted in the verdict). However, they didn’t ascribe to him “criminal intent,” even if illicit ties and illicit practices existed.

Here we willy-nilly enter the realm of psychoanalysis rather than legal reasoning.

Hypothetically, we might submit that there needn’t be something inherently felonious in the spectacle of a leading politico accepting envelopes stuffed with cash. At the same time, however, this state of affairs is hardly condonable from the vantage point of civic hygiene. Any bigwig in public life owes us more elevated ethics.

If on the civic plane we acquiesce to paint Olmert as a latter-day Dreyfus, then we foolhardily regress into the bad old days when higher-ups behaved badly while pretending not to see, know or comprehend.

Hence it’s remarkable that the very same people who fumed when Netanyahu wasn’t tried, now fume because Olmert was tried. The very same forces who tried to remove Netanyahu now claim that the scandals that surrounded Olmert unjustly led to his political downfall. They conveniently omit mention of the fact that his approval ratings were down to 2 or 3 percent (depending on the survey quoted).

That was in early 2007, a year and a half before he stepped down under corruption’s darkening clouds. Already in mid- March 2007, prime minister Ehud Olmert, attending a Kadima function in Petah Tikva, intoned dramatically: “I am an unpopular premier.”

At that point he wasn’t yet dogged by legal travails. His chagrin then was aroused by opinion polls, which he depicted as truncheons used to bludgeon him and illegitimately wrest his power away.

To win pity and/or grudging admiration for his tenacity-in-the-face-of-adversity, Olmert posed desperately as the poor persecuted underdog, who despite unparalleled rock-bottom repute, remains steadfastly unintimidated and a committed public servant. He altruistically pledged to ignore the public’s judgment and “continue to serve” said public despite its wishes.

Olmert’s foremost obligation was to not abandon his “workplace,” as he put it. The only trifling detail expediently overlooked is that the voters were his bosses and that his bosses had ceased to appreciate their employee’s dishonorable professional record and sloppy skills.

Glitches like the 2006 Lebanese fiasco, the long-term menace from the Gaza Strip which he recklessly helped vacate, the neglect of civilians North and South and the brutal cavalry charge he ordered on settlers in Amona, soured widespread evaluations of Olmert’s competence. And on top of all that hovered arrogance even in the aftermath of blatant failure.

With disengagement then still fresh in people’s minds, many recalled how Olmert energetically peddled Oslo’s derivative folly: “Disengagement will bring better defense, greater security, significantly more prosperity and much joy to all who live in the Mideast…. Together we will move forward in the direction of forging new relationships, improved mutual understanding and enhanced trust. We will sit with our neighbors, talk to them, help them, cooperate with them, become their partners, so that the Middle East will indeed transform into what it was supposed to be to begin with – the Garden of Eden upon this earth.”

Not only wasn’t he the least bit contrite, but Olmert vigorously concocted a disengagement sequel for Judea and Samaria, which he dubbed “realignment.” It was to bring the dubious bounties of Gaza’s disengagement to the elongated eastern flank of our densest population centers. Later Olmert outdid even Ehud Barak’s egregious concession offers at Camp David, only to be similarly rebuffed by Ramallah.

But above all, ordinary Israelis had enough of Olmert not because he was supposedly defamed and railroaded by unprincipled political foes but because he plainly demoralized his constituents.

It was hard a few years back to forget his June 9, 2005, declaration to the Israel Policy Forum at New York’s posh Waldorf-Astoria: “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.”

11 thoughts on “Another Tack: What if his name was Bibi?

  1. mention should have been made in the Har-Shefi paragraphs of the total disregard of the role that Amir’s ‘handler’ played; His was the incentive to publish the photoshopped Nazification of Rabin, he was the one who encouraged and provoked Amir to get some action, and HE was the one who knew how close Amir was to committing this terrible murder.

  2. Olmert unsuccessfully tried to sell out Judea and Samaria…it did not work, because the Arabs had been even dumber than him…Now, he got the reward for his “good” will…
    Israels biggest challenges are it’s inside enemies…now more than ever…The Levy report just cleared the map for the legality of Judeas and Samarias Jewish inhabitants !
    NOW is the time to act and to build !
    Egypt is paralysed for the foreseeable future and so is Syria and the EU morons cannot dictate Israels actions…good that Olmert is at least out of business…

  3. “many recalled how Olmert energetically peddled Oslo’s derivative folly: “Disengagement will bring better…” – He’s still peddling all that stuff trotting around the world making increasingly Leftist pronouncements, extremely detrimental to the country’s security and international standing, for everybody to hear – but mostly for the hearing of Israel’s judiciary and media. Ever since the investigation of him began, he’s been busy attempting to do “a Sharon.” One wonders if his success at that endeavor is at all related to his acquittal.

  4. “…my forecasts were received with open dismay by my bosses. The upshot was that entire paragraphs were added without my foreknowledge or permission to my copy, under my byline.”

    Daniel Moynihan used to say that you are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts. Sarah, your “bosses” thought they were entitled to their own opinions, but also entitled to take over yours. Perhaps this too is the corruption that comes from power, but I do not believe we start from the premise that all journalists are corrupt. So if those bosses are still engaged in the profession of journalism, and still in a position to influence public opinion, is it not fair to ask, who were they?

  5. It’s quite evident that every treacherous Israeli faux leader who pushes the evil agenda to carve up Israel for a bogus peace are all tarred and feathered in one way or another and this includes the actor who plays the part of a leader ,Mr. Netanyahu.

    ‘When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.’
    Proverbs 16:7

  6. A thought-provoking article. When the left dominates both the judiciary and the fourth-estate-journalism, right-of-center politicians are going to be judged guilty until proven innocent, while left-of-center politicians will get a pass on just about everything; including corruption and laying down the red carpet for the nation’s enemies. The situation is similar here in America. One of the reasons Barack Obama has successfully deflected much of the criticism directed at him, is that the American media and government are in his back pocket. Their politics(along with that of at least 70% of American Jews) can be summed up in two words–Get Bush! Thus narcissist-in-chief Obama has successfully blamed Bush for many of his colossal failures; until very recently. But one question: What is the latest development on the effort to give the Israeli Prime Minister the power to appoint judges to Israel’s Supreme Court?

  7. We fell down the rabbit hole thousands of years ago. Olmert was deluded at best, ” “We are confident that this ‘disengagement’ will be successful and that it will then lead to the beginning of a new pattern of relations between us and the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “

  8. Let us, for a moment think that Olmert is not guilty of all he was charged for; then he is guilty of demoralizing the country, humiliating her, and for thinking that Israel is just a piece of real estate that can be negotiated and be torn apart.
    On June 9, 2005, he declared to the Israel Policy Forum at New York’s posh Waldorf-Astoria event: “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.”
    Olmert, we are tired of you, really tired.
    Olmert needs to be kept away from politics as far as possible, behind bars, of possible.
    Olmert is guilty of all he was found “not guilty”.

  9. One has more chances to win in “Mifal Ha-Pais”, which are almost unexistent anyway than to win in court.. if you are on the wrong side of the political spectrum! Olmert is an shameless ambitious individual who betrayed the party which made him politically, was ready to further betray the country as well, is co-responsible for the “illegal” retreat from Gaza, for the needless and ill prepared Lebanon 2 war (in which nothing was achieved), that again needless, costly and futile “Cast lead”. He, as soo many of our other “leaders” never take responsability for their mistakes, wrongdoings etc. and persevere in them without the slightest remorse…

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