Livni: Ehud Olmert ‘unfit’ to return to politics

Zionist Union MK, who served under subsequently jailed prime minister, says Israel must be led by ‘untarnished people’

Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert at a cabinet meeting in 2007 (photo credit: Flash90)
Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert at a cabinet meeting in 2007 (photo credit: Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said Saturday that former prime minister Ehud Olmert was “unfit” to return to political life due to his past criminal actions.

Livni, speaking to Hadashot TV news, said that even if Presiden Reuven Rivlin were to erase the “moral turpitude” clause from Olmert’s conviction — a designation that prevents a convict from holding positions of public office — Olmert must not return to public life.

“He was a prime minister who did good things as well as problematic things, including criminal things,” Livni, who served as foreign minister under Olmert, said. “The debate on the future of the State of Israel must be waged between untarnished people.”

MK Tzipi Livni. (Photo credit: Erez Uzir)

Olmert has been giving interviews to coincide with the publication of his autobiography, “In Person,” in which he insists there was a conspiracy to oust him as prime minister that also involved the state prosecution from the moment he took office. He also returned to the public eye in the past week after Israel officially confirmed that it had carried out a 2007 airstrike on a Syrian nuclear reactor — when he served as prime minster.

But the reveal led to intense bickering between Israeli intelligence and political leaders over credit for the strike, which led Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to say he regretted authorizing its publication.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert in a Keshet TV interview broadcast on March 17, 2018. (Keshet screenshot)

Livni shared the sentiment, saying she “initially thought it was fine to announce details of the operation as it would increase deterrence and give a sense of security to Israeli citizens, but the ‘chatter’ and ‘quibbling’ that have developed after the publication have hurt our deterrence and created a feeling of unease in the public — the exact opposite of what should have been achieved.”

She said credit was due both to Olmert and to then-defense minister Ehud Barak for their decision to launch the operation.

On Wednesday Barak attacked Olmert, saying he “was never really the prime minister” but merely “played” the role.

Barak and Olmert have a long, bitter history — it was Barak who in 2008 forced Olmert’s resignation when the prime minister battled corruption allegations for which he was ultimately jailed. And the two men are also at odds over the Syria strike, with Olmert suggesting that Barak wanted to delay it so that he could claim credit for it at a later stage after Olmert was gone, and Barak insisting he simply wanted to be sure that the attack plan was perfected before the strike went ahead.

In an interview on the Reshet TV station, hours after Israel formally acknowledged responsibility for the strike, Barak derided Olmert with particular viciousness, asserting that “Olmert was never really prime minister” but had, rather, lucked into the role after Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke. “He got there by chance. I’m sure that Sharon would never have aimed to have him there. He played the role very well,” said Barak cynically.

Asked whether Olmert, nonetheless, had made a courageous and correct decision to approve the strike on Syria’s reactor, Barak continued: “Kevin Spacey is also a good actor. He played the president exceptionally well [in House of Cards]. That didn’t make him president.”

Olmert “made that good decision,” Barak allowed, “and he ultimately deserves credit for that.” But Olmert’s about-to-be-published autobiography, written in jail, underlined his utter unfitness for the job, claimed Barak, himself also a former prime minister. (Olmert is highly critical of Barak in the book.) “Read his book,” urged Barak. “The personality doesn’t change in jail… To think that the person who wrote that book… was the prime minister of Israel, and took fateful decisions affecting us all, is disturbing, to put it mildly.”

Barak’s predecessor as defense minister, MK Amir Peretz, by contrast, insisted that Olmert, when it came to the preparations for the Syria, functioned “exceptionally well.”

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