Good Ol’ mert
Hebrew media review

Good Ol’ mert

The former PM tries to beat a moral turpitude rap by agreeing to give up some creature comforts of public life. The talking heads don't buy it

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert upon hearing the judges' decision in court in July (photo credit: Emil Salman/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert upon hearing the judges' decision in court in July (photo credit: Emil Salman/Flash90)

The heady days of the twenty aughts are back in full force in the Hebrew press today, with former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his deputy Tzipi Livni splashed across the front pages of three of Israel’s four main Hebrew-language dailies.

Israel Hayom and Maariv set the tone with the identical headline “The battle over moral turpitude,” and they relate that the former prime minister has agreed to give up his quite lux former-head-of-state rights (like a car, an office, a newspaper subscription and so on) in return for a slap on the wrist for his conviction on a political appointments charge earlier this year. Should the three-judge panel find his offense carries moral turpitude, and sentence him to three months in jail or more, he would be barred from politics for seven years. Anything less and slippery Ehud, who beat two other raps, will be able to ride into the Knesset on his trusty steed “Centrist Politics” and have a shot at retaking the prime minister’s office (assuming he beats the one outstanding case he is involved in). Or so some people think.

Among those people is Israel Hayom’s Dan Margalit, who calls Olmert the new Tricky Dicky, aka Richard Milhouse Nixon. “His vigorous maneuvers to return to public life may be in danger. Since ‘moral turpitude’ can only fall on somebody in public life, he announced through his attorney Eli Zohar that he waives any rights he deserves as former prime minister and half a million dollars of public funding a year. (Will he show up to the hearing today already in a private car?) Only so that he will not get turpitude.”

Maariv has the second blast from the past, this one coming from the salad days of the post-Olmert era. According to documents obtained by the paper, a deal was in the works to create a large unity government by which Netanyahu would serve as prime minister until March 31, 2012, after which Kadima leader Tzipi Livni would take over as the head of state, and according to the paper, be the woman with her finger on the Iran pre-emptive strike button, with Netanyahu sitting in the defense minister’s chair. The man behind the deal, recent Likud rejoinee Tzachi Hanegbi (who himself might have some advice for Olmert about moral turpitude), tells the paper that Livni got cold feet and Netanyahu wasn’t so gung ho on the plan anyway. “I think she truly believed that a government with 61 MKs [without her party’s participation] could not have any essential influence on the state,” he says. “From her talks with Netanyahu she registered that he was not due to make any big change. I think she was mistaken.”

Muzzled and puzzled

While the past is important, the story with the biggest import for the future is Yedioth Ahronoth’s lead, that there are disagreements among Israeli intelligence bodies over a strike on Iran. The story, which came from a leak serious enough that Netanyahu on Wednesday shut down a planned security cabinet meeting, details that presentations from the heads of the military, Mossad and Shin Bet security service revealed that Israel’s intelligence assessment on Iran follows the old canard about three Jews and four opinions. A number of ministers in the meeting, apparently speaking as a Greek chorus (more likely the quote is a pastiche or is overattributed to protect someone’s identity), told the paper that “We heard information that was detailed, bothersome and worrying. The Iranians are galloping toward a bomb and it seems nothing can stop them.” Fan-frickin-tastic.

Iran may be worrying, but at least Israelis can rest well at night knowing the army is doing its job making sure a group of Eritreans at the border with Israel are not being allowed in. Twenty migrants are stuck in a purgatory-like situation on the border with Egypt and Israel, with Israel refusing to let them find shelter here, though returning to Egypt could mean imprisonment, repatriation or worse. According to Haaretz, which runs on its front page a heartrending picture of a group of them sitting at the fence being watched over the soldiers in the scorching heat, the migrants are not being given food by the army. The paper notes that in a similar case three weeks ago, the migrants were eventually let in for humanitarian reasons and immediately arrested.

If the whole situation is puzzling, why not relax with a nice 1,000-piece puzzle. Here, I got you one from Germany. That piece looks like a sky, that one looks like train tracks, that corner piece might be a part of barracks, and what’s this over here? Oh, a mass grave. According to a story in Yedioth, a company that makes puzzles based on aerial pictures of the sites “Germans love best” has come out with two products allowing families to gather round and put together pictures of Buchenwald and Dachau, both Nazi concentration camps. Though the pictures on the puzzle focus on the memorials at the sites today, something tells me that Zayde Leo probably won’t want one for Chanukah.

Don’t play stupid with me

In the op-ed department Haaretz’s Amira Hass fires her pen in all directions, indicting Israelis, who are too smart to claim ignorance, for the various ills that plague the country, particularly those performed against the Palestinians. “Wonderful things can be done with such intelligence, such knowledge of how to obtain information and such freedom to oppose.… And therefore, every one of us is an active participant in the democracy-dictatorship that is being developed between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, old and young, women and men, city dwellers and moshavniks, religious and secular, settlers and residents of Mitzpeh Hila, Kiryat Shmona and Ramat Aviv.”

In Maariv, Yoel Guzansky and Oded Eran write that Israel and the US need to rethink the way they approach the Middle East in light of the fact that the region is becoming increasingly weaponized with increasingly sophisticated arms, mostly thanks to US support. The move represents a conflict of interest for Israel, which wants the enemies of its enemies armed, but knows those weapons can be easily turned on the Jewish state as well. “The ‘qualitative advantage’ for Israel in conventional weapons is going out the window. This despite the personal assurance of every US president to maintain this advantage. The revolution in the Arab world of the last 18 months gives another threat that it’s impossible to ignore. The stability of many of the regimes in the region is not strong and not set in stone. Weapons systems in their hands today could wind up with groups that in the future could threaten Israel and even the US.”

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