The key witness against Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, American businessman Morris Talansky, has declared he won't be returning to Israel to complete his testimony.
Olmert's people say this leaves the prosecution's case in tatters. The prosecution insists he will be indicted. And I hope the prosecution is right. Having a former PM in the dock will be a true embarrassment. But no trial would be even worse.
Israeli police have now gone after a string of very senior politicians with few cases ever coming to court, let alone ending with a guilty verdict. Serious corruption investigations were launched against former PMs Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. None of them was ever charged with any wrongdoing, but the cases seriously damaged their reputations and hampered their ability to do their jobs.
Although recently, a couple of MKs - Naomi Blumenthal and Haim Ramon - have been convicted, there have been similar dead-ends in investigations of former ministers Joseph Paritzky and Avigdor Lieberman and minister Ruhama Avraham, among others.
Many Israelis already suspect the police and justice ministry of targeting MKs for political reasons. This time round, the prosecutors seem actually to be forcing the resignation of a prime minister. Clearly, Olmert must not be convicted if he is not guilty. But should it emerge that, yet again, the prosecution cannot even muster enough evidence to bring the case to trial, confidence in the legal system would be dealt a fatal blow. And that would be even more damaging to this young democracy than a former PM in court.
Let the Will stand
- An American court has struck down a couple’s will because they specified that their grandchildren would only inherit money if they married a Jewish spouse. The clause, ruled the judges, "seriously interferes with and limits the right of individuals to marry a person of their own choosing", and opens the door to bigotry.
But are either of these claims true? Four out of the five grandchildren did not marry Jews, so it is hard to argue that the grandparents really did interfere with their free will. Moreover, wanting descendants to marry other Jews is (usually) not about bigotry — ie keeping people out — but about preservation of a faith and way of life — that is, keeping people in. The couple were quite clear that grandchildren whose spouses converted could inherit their $250,000 each.
People should be allowed to leave their money to whomever they like. A better question would be why this couple, to whom Judaism was clearly so important, had just one grandchild who apparently felt the same media bias lesson
- When German Chancellor Angela Merkel initially went soft on Russia’s invasion of Georgia by calling it "disproportionate", and Barack Obama appealed for "restraint" on both sides, they had a media ally: the BBC, which at times seems to be gunning outright for the Russians.
Take the analysis by correspondent Paul Reynolds on the BBC website on August 14. "The US and UK have chosen to represent this as Russian aggression. Yet it was Georgia that attacked with a rocket barrage," he said. "The West needs to acknowledge that the Russians did have a case." And PM Putin apparently gave "strong performances throughout".
There were also accusations on some sites that the Beeb was repeating Russia’s false claims about troop withdrawals without challenge.
For those concerned about media coverage of Israel, there is a lesson. We often see press distortions as motivated by factors specific to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — eg antisemitism — but there are clearly larger issues about the political orientation of some of our broadcasters, and their functioning in war zones, which would better explain some of their reporting. If we really want to change the coverage, we must understand that bias from Jerusalem is merely a symptom — not the disease — and tackle the wider problem.
Miriam Shaviv is the JC’s comment editor