Despite being meted a heavy six-year prison sentence for bribe-taking, former prime minister Ehud Olmert gets off easy in the newspapers Wednesday, with fairly little personal criticism and a fair amount of mournful reminiscence of his political career.
The papers are divided on the performance of Judge David Rozen, with some applauding his uncompromising stance while others nitpick his statements, particularly his designation of Olmert as a “traitor.”
Yedioth Ahronoth paints the courtroom scene in painstaking detail, beginning with the excited chatter that preceded the sentencing on Tuesday morning.
“When the clock pointed to 9 o’clock on the dot, Judge David Rozen entered the hall – but due to the commotion, many present did not even notice. And the judge? He chose not to wait until they closed their mouths, or until they sat down. He immediately began reading the sentence, and only then did everyone collect themselves and perk up their ears. In seconds, the hall filled with a historic tension.”
As for Olmert himself, the paper describes him as looking preoccupied and unflinching: “Again and again, he removed his cellphone from his pocket, pressed on it, and went back to staring at the judge. His apathetic gaze remained in his eyes during even the most severe segments of the sentence, and there were no shortage of these.”
In an op-ed for the paper, columnist Sima Kadmon attacks Rozen for his scathing remarks, writing that “one doesn’t have to be a psychologist to see” the personal animosity the judge has for Olmert.
“The judge selected the harshest words in order to describe Olmert’s actions, words that are indicative of strong emotions. Words like traitor, pollution, rot, hatred, defilement – drawn from the lowest, most degrading semantic fields,” she writes.
“Traitor? Even those who think the sentence was justified, and that the decision did not leave room for a lesser punishment, must agree that the judge went too far… I believe that there are enough words in the dictionary that capture Olmert’s actions instead of the word ‘traitor.’”
Kadmon also staunchly defended Olmert’s now tainted legacy.
“Will he be remembered as one who was considered by many to be one of the best prime ministers here? Will there be room to note his courage in circumstances that we only learned about from foreign sources, on his efforts to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, or that his administration was the golden age of Israel’s relations with the world?”
Israel Hayom takes another tack, applauding Rozen as the man of the hour in the state’s fight against corruption, under the headline “The judge who was not afraid.”
Mordechai Gilat writes that Rozen, “who is worthy of the title of the legal system’s man of the year,” set “a new standard, higher than his predecessors, in the cases of public figures.”
Columnist Dan Margalit calls the decision “a legal-social revolution,” and denounced those defending Olmert and recalling his track record prior to the Holyland case to buttress his case. “The opposite is true: Those who stand at the top of the political pyramid must be more innocent than others, and be punished for every aberration more than others, and not less.”
A Haaretz editorial emphasizes the significance of the decision, and maintains that Israeli citizens “deserve a government free of the taint of corruption.”
“One must hope that Olmert’s tragic fall from ‘the summit of summits,’ to quote David Rozen’s words, to the dock… will indeed deter office holders and civil servants from having anything to do with corruption.”
Like Kadmon in Yedioth — albeit more tempered — columnist Yossi Verter issues a political obituary for Olmert, lamenting his new legacy, and criticizing the judge for calling him a traitor.
“Olmert will always be remembered as the first of the corrupt, the highest-ranking convict. Unfortunately, this will be his legacy, the way he will go down in Israeli history. The bright points in his public activity, and there have been some, will be pushed to the margins and may even disappear. That is certainly no less of a harsh blow for him than the prison sentence,” he writes.
Rozen’s branding Olmert as a traitor is “an exceptionally strong statement. Unnecessary, strident, characteristic of an Internet comment,” he adds.