Likud MK seeks to bar Olmert from return to politics

But one-time Kadima colleague says room open at top of party for former prime minister

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely addresses the Knesset, March 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely addresses the Knesset, March 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

An MK from the ruling Likud party is trying to torpedo the chances that former prime minister Ehud Olmert will make a comeback in the upcoming elections, even as members of the party he once ran may be paving the way for his return.

MK Tzipi Hotovely of Likud on Wednesday submitted a letter to the head of the Central Election Committee demanding that Olmert be deemed as having acted with “moral turpitude” and thus be disqualified from the upcoming Knesset elections.

Olmert, a former prime minister for Kadima, has not yet said whether he will run in newly-announced elections slated for early 2013, but rumors of his return have swirled since a court cleared him of two out of three criminal charges and handed down a suspended sentence on a conviction earlier this year.

Kadima MK Dalia Itzik told Army Radio Wednesday that she wants Olmert as the prime minister of Israel again, and claimed Shaul Mofaz, currently the head of Kadima, would defer to Olmert to make that happen.

“I know Mofaz and I know exactly how responsible he is, and I’m sure at this time we need to put the zeal and ego aside, consider how to pair up, and do what is best for Israel,” she said.

Olmert is still on trial for his involvement in alleged underhanded dealings connected to the Holyland residential development in Israel, and cannot assume a ministerial post until being cleared of those charges, judges ruled. However, he can run to join the Knesset.

Hotovely said she would ask the election committee, headed by judge Elyakim Rubinstein, to legally bar him from seeking public office until the allotted period of time needed for completion of his possible legal battles passes.

She claimed that giving Olmert the ability to run is akin to Israel opening its doors to those who break the law. “A convicted felon’s candidacy for government should be rejected out of hand before making him a savior of the left,” she stated Wednesday.

Olmert was forced out of office nearly four years ago under the cloud of scandal, accused of accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from an American political supporter and allegedly double-billing supporters for overseas trips. In July, the court cleared him of those serious allegations, convicting him only on the lesser charge of breach of trust for helping allocate government contracts to a friend’s associates.

He was then acquitted of (most of) the serious corruption charges against him in September.

Because the single conviction did not carry moral turpitude he did not have to sit out seven years before returning to office.

In July, Olmert told associates that he would return to politics and win the prime ministership as a centrist candidate, launching his campaign upon completion of his legal battles.

Olmert’s associates reportedly view the Likud MK’s initiative as an attempt to stigmatize him and an indication of the right-leaning party’s nervousness that he will snag seats from their voter base in the next elections.

“It is time for members of the far-right to internalize that Olmert was handed a resounding acquittal and that he was unfairly dismissed from public office,” sources close to Olmert stated in response to Hotovely’s initiative, Maariv reported.

The Israeli daily also quoted unnamed officials in Olmert’s circle as saying that the petition would be overturned by the High Court of Justice because it is unfair in practice, and conversely, claimed it would provide the leader with a boost should he choose to run.

AP contributed to this report.

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