Thoughts on Olmert’s partial acquittal
I have not had the opportunity to read the court decision on Olmert. And so my thoughts on his acquittal have little to do with the merits of the prosecution in the three cases adjudicated by the Jerusalem District Court.
I have a problem with corruption investigations against politicians generally and against Ehud Olmert specifically. In general, I find these sorts of investigations against politicians inherently biased. I take my cue from the Federalist Papers, and there I believe it was James Madison who explained that the presumption has to be that politicians are all corrupt. Their power puts them in contact with powerful and wealthy men who use their proximity to politicians to advance their interests. The larger government is – that is, the larger government’s influence over the economic life of a society, the greater the likelihood of corruption. The more power a politician exerts over the economy, the larger his propensity to take bribes from people interested in making a profit.
This is the way of the world. And in our world, where governments control enormous welfare states and therefore exert massive influence over the economic life of a country, the assumption ought to be that all politicians are corrupt.
This assumption then leads to the clear conclusion that every corruption investigation and prosecution of politicians is inherently discriminatory. If all politicians are on the take to greater or lesser degrees, then the decision regarding who to investigate is essentially a decision about who to single out. And therefore, all corruption investigations of politicians are by their nature unjust. The investigations are themselves corrupt.
These understandings led Madison and his colleagues to the conclusion that all government should be limited as much as possible. It also led them to call for a system of checks and balances so that all arms of government checked one another’s power.
In Israel, (and increasingly in the US as we see with the Obamacare ruling), the third branch of government – the judiciary – has become increasingly unhinged from this system. In Israel, the judiciary has effectively co-opted the state prosecution. Under the de facto control of the judiciary, the prosecution has leveraged itself into a position where, like the judiciary, it appoints and promotes its own without answering to elected officials. This situation has weakened severely Israel’s democratic system, attenuating the ability of the public to control its government or trust its institutions.
It is due to these twin issues – the assumption that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and therefore all people with power can be assumed to be corrupt; and the imperial nature of Israel’s legal system – that I view all corruption scandals in Israel with great suspicion. We have consistently seen the tendency of the legal fraternity to selectively prosecute corruption allegations in order to advance the fortunes of the Left against the Right.
And this brings me to my special difficulty with the legal prosecution of Olmert.
Objectively speaking, Olmert was the worst prime minister that Israel has ever had. And that is saying a lot. He had stiff competition from Ehud Barak, but he managed to outdo him in incompetence and general failure to meet the challenge of the office he aspired to in his unmitigated shamelessness and hubris.
Olmert lost the war with Hezbollah in 2006. He lost Israel’s campaign against Hamas in 2008-2009. He failed to block Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. He weakened Israel’s international position and its alliance with the US. And so on and so forth.
The public never forgave him for his failed leadership in the 2006 war. And rightly so. There can be no forgivIng or forgetting his decision to send forces to their deaths in battle AFTER he had already accepted the ceasefire ensuring that none of their action would make any difference. I believe that 34 IDF soldiers died in the last 36 hours of the war that took place AFTER Olmert had agreed to the ceasefire.
And this brings us to the issue of his alleged corruption.
The Israeli media specifically, and the left generally holds the lion’s share of responsibility for the outbreak of the 2006 war due to its massive propaganda campaign to coerce successive governments into withdrawing from southern Lebanon in 2000. Had Israel not run away in May 2000, Hezbollah would not have been free to attack Israel in 2006. It’s that simple.
In 2006, the media were unwilling to acknowledge the cause for the war – them. So right after it was over, they sought to bury it and forget all about it. But the public would not put it behind them. The reservists called up to serve in the war and risk their lives for a war their government decided to lose formed a protest movement and marched on Jerusalem demanding Olmert’s resignation.
The establishment tried to deflect their anger first by seeking to discredit them. Led by Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker, the media sought to castigate the reservists by accusing them of being closet right wingers whose only goal was to avenge the expulsions from Gaza.
When that didn’t work, they tried to punt by forming the Winograd Commission to investigate the war. The mandate of the committee was to begin its investigation with what happened AFTER the unilateral withdrawal of May 2000. By so determining the mandate of the commission, the establishment ensured that no attention would be paid to the cause of the war – Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
But even the Winograd Commission’s findings couldn’t assuage the public’s hatred for Olmert. So the media decided to sacrifice him to the wolves of the state prosecution on corruption charges. They decided that Olmert had to be sacrificed to protect their ideology. And so he was. It is a scandal of historic proportions that Olmert was ousted for anything other than his unforgivably failed leadership of the country in war. His alleged corruption was at best a tertiary concern.
There is now some talk of Olmert making a political comeback. All I can say to that is that if the Israeli public is stupid enough to allow him back in power, then we deserve what we get. But I don’t believe this talk.
The one possible silver lining in all of this is that Olmert’s partial acquittal has put the prosecution in the dock. If its failure to convict Olmert finally empowers the Knesset to reign in our out of control prosecutors, then perhaps it can be said that there was a divine plan to all of this. But since I am in no position to understand God’s design, all I can say is that there are no heroes in this story. The bad guys won, and the bad guys lost.