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“In a Word: Disgusting”

A follow-up to Olmert’s day of disgrace. Here’s the veteran political commentator Sima Kadmon, on the revelations about Ehud Olmert’s financial dealings:

In a word: Disgusting. And even that doesn’t serve to fully express the sense of nausea that emerges from the testimony of donor and fundraiser Morris Talansky, who for 15 years, it appears, made sure to maintain the lavish lifestyle of an Israeli mayor and minister.

The testimony that was heard Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court is not only dramatic; it’s shocking. It is shocking that a public servant demands and receives cash donations, with no receipts, and without any records being kept. It is shocking to think that such senior public figure uses the credit card of an American Jew in order to finance his expenses.

It is shocking that an Israeli public servant receives a $25,000 gift in order to finance a family vacation. It is shocking that a public figure receives gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels for first class upgrades, luxury hotels, restaurants, and vacations. It is shocking to hear about huge loans that were never paid back, even though they loaner demanded payment.

It is possible that parts of the testimony we heard Tuesday are untrue. Other parts may be inaccurate. There are also things that must have an explanation. And perhaps it will turn out that there was no criminal offense here. Yet the behavior described by Talansky is embarrassing and revolting even if we weren’t talking about a public figure: There is nothing sexy about people who live at the expense of others only to satisfy their desires and ostentatious lifestyle. It is much more shocking and horrifying when we are talking about a minister in the Israeli government.

Kadmon’s feelings reflect a wave of revulsion currently sweeping the Israeli media over the Olmert affair. Yet there’s something a little strange about it. Maybe it’s because I live in Jerusalem, where Olmert reigned as mayor for eight years, and every cab driver seems to know about his corruption. Or maybe it’s just that everybody in Israel already knew that this stuff went on, but it never really made the newspapers, and the official public discourse insisted on being much more naive than the man-in-the-street conventional wisdom.

One hopeful sign of the effect of all this loathing: The Olmert affair has the potential to do for financial accountability among public officials what the Katzav affair did for sexual misconduct. As Haaretz commentator Uzi Benziman put it today:

Just as the revelation of how former president Moshe Katsav behaved toward his female subordinates led to a decline in sexual harassment in the public service, so too a peek at Olmert’s behavior with regard to Talansky may well generate a real turning point in the pattern of relationships between the country’s leaders and wealthy Jews from abroad. So far, this seems to be Olmert’s only salient contribution during his term as prime minister.


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