I dated Ehud Olmert once. His ambition stood out, but the corruption was yet to come

It was a taste for the high life that brought the former Israeli PM down

Mira Bar Hillel
Wednesday 02 April 2014 11:17

Reader, I didn’t marry him. Not even close. But I did once go out with the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has just been convicted of bribery and corruption.

Back in late 1969 a blind date was arranged for us. We moved in the same circles for a few years: he as an aspiring politician, me as a journalist. Then as now, Olmert was highly intelligent, with a sharp legal mind. On the downside was his raw ambition.

Olmert was the accidental PM. 'Arik' Sharon made him his deputy mainly to force him to toe the line. But when Sharon fell into a coma in 2006, Olmert inherited the job without having to bother with an election which he would probably not have won.

His legacy as PM includes the ill-fated adventure in Lebanon in August 2006, which killed over 1,000 people, mostly civilians, devastated civil infrastructure and displaced approximately one million Lebanese. Two years later, he ordered the molten lead attack on Gaza in December 2008, which again left nearly 1,000 Palestinian civilians dead, many of them, as in Lebanon, children.

I always suspected he would go far in politics. What I didn't expect was that his political ambition was to evolve into an insatiable appetite for First Class travel, five-star suites, fat cigars, sharp suits and designer watches.

But it was these tastes, rather than what were arguably his war crimes, that brought him down. In early 2009 he was forced to resign to face one corruption investigation and trial after another.

In 2012, a two-year trial, Olmert was finally convicted of breach of trust in a matter which he was involved in before becoming PM. On the more serious counts, allegations of double-accounting on his travels and receiving cash bribes in plain brown envelopes, the judges decided the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

Being Ehud Olmert, he decided that the result was a vindication and actively sought a comeback to frontline politics. Having been a right-wing firebrand, he was now hinting, to his donors and fundraisers abroad, that only he could deliver the compromises which would bring peace to the Middle East.

He continued along this line even while his second trial was ongoing. This time the charge was that, while Mayor of Jerusalem (before he joined the Government), he took bribes from wealthy and well-connected developers for a monstrous scheme on a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem, formerly occupied by the historic and much-loved Holyland Hotel.

He has now been convicted for this, but the abomination has been built. Whatever sentence he receives in a month’s time, history will judge Olmert most harshly for his crimes against Jerusalem, the results of which will tragically be standing on that hilltop long after we are all gone.

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