The Tel Aviv District Court’s decision on Tuesday to sentence former prime minister Ehud Olmert to six years in prison Tuesday elicited a range of reactions from the country’s leaders who, while saddened by the verdict against the former prime minister, viewed it as a victory for Israeli democracy.
President Shimon Peres, who is in Norway for a state visit, said it was a “sad day” for him personally, though he had no personal involvement in the ex-premier’s trial.
“It was a legal process as is customary in democratic states. I had no role in it, and it was free from personal influences,” he said.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, considered a friend of Olmert, expressed similar sentiments.
“The day on which a former prime minister is sentenced to prison is a sad day for Israeli democracy, and a sad day for me on a personal level,” Lapid said. “But at the same time, it is an important day on which the judiciary demonstrated that nobody is above the law.”
In a post on his official Facebook page, Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog said the sentence “proves that Israel has an independent judiciary with the same law for the prime minister and the lowliest of citizens.”
While it was a “sad day” for those who knew Olmert personally, Herzog said, Israel’s law enforcement authorities had proven that “they know how to rid the system of unacceptable events that gnaw at the delicate trust of the public in its elected representatives.”
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said it was “a sad and difficult day for Israel and for the man himself.”
He added, however, that fighting corruption in the country’s civil service was “of utmost importance,” and that he would authorize the police to fight it “on every level.”
Meretz chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-on said a “new chapter” had opened on Tuesday in the fight against corruption in Israel.
“Olmert’s sentence opens a new chapter… clearing out corruption from the political leadership in Israel,” said Gal-on, praising the court’s decision.
“Not only did the former prime minister fail to express regret the whole way through, he also outdid himself, using every possible manipulation to avoid recognizing the depths of his depravity,” she added.
Former Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said Judge David Rozen, who presided over the case, had delivered a “just” sentence – despite protests by Olmert and his backers, who vowed to appeal it.
“This is an important and deterring lesson for corrupt civil servants, as well as a significant message to the public at large, which today knows that the systems enforcing the rule of law in Israel are good, professional and don’t bow down to high-profile defendants. This goes a long way to restore the public’s trust in the law,” Yachimovich said. “Justice has been served.”
Lambasting the behavior of “Olmert and his emissaries,” who “for years persecuted, badmouthed and threatened any officeholder who dared to do his job,” Yachimovich praised the prosecution for its “professional, mental and moral fortitude” during the trial.
“It is lamentable that such a corrupt man controlled the government of the country, as well as our lives, but we can be proud of the fact that we are a clean democracy in which everyone is equal before the law.”
Yachimovich’s fellow Labor MK, Nachman Shai, echoed her statement, saying it was “a sad day, but also a proud one.”
He said that from here on in, the Holyland affair would serve as a “red flag” warning other public servants against corruption.
Meanwhile, Olmert adviser Amir Dan said the sentence was “unjust” and disproportionate.
“Unfortunately, as expected, the court gave Olmert an unjust sentence that deviates by an extreme margin from any sentence ever given for similar crimes and in similar circumstances,” Dan said.
He also insisted that his client was innocent.
“The court, completely erroneously, convicted a man who never took a bribe and made great contributions to the State of Israel,” Dan said.