Last week the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert began his prison sentence, having been convicted of corruption after a years-long legal battle. Isi Leibler, who first befriended Olmert in the 1980s, reflects on the Israeli politician’s migration from the far right to the left and his fall from grace, focusing on a crucial moment in 2005:
In a shocking display of crude political opportunism, the right-wing Likud leader with a Revisionist background became, virtually overnight, Prime Minister Sharon’s most aggressive and effective proponent of the disastrous unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. He was brutal and even cruel in the mocking of his former friends and allies and trivialized the forcible eviction of the Gush Katif settlements. At that stage, I became one of his most fervent critics.
His subsequent trials, which culminated in his conviction and a six-year sentence reduced to 19 months—which pending another case still to be determined could be extended to 27 months—represent a shameful reflection of the abysmally low level of personal morality to which some Israeli politicians have descended. . . . On the positive side, at least it demonstrates that in Israel, nobody is above the rule of law.
Without diminishing his moral corruption, my feeling is that Olmert’s devastating role in the second Lebanon war and his groveling to the Palestinians will have a far greater negative long-term impact on Israel than the activities for which he was sentenced to jail.