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'Olmert's Verdict is a Lesson to Us All'

MKs begin to react to the Holyland Affair, condemning the former PM's actions - but praising Israel's fight against corruption.
By Tova Dvorin, Gil Ronen
First Publish: 5/13/2014, 10:55 AM / Last Update: 5/13/2014, 11:11 AM

Ehud Olmert, in court before sentencing
Ehud Olmert, in court before sentencing
Flash90

MKs and public figures have begun reacting Tuesday morning to the sentencing of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert was handed a six-year prison sentence Tuesday, and will apparently be the first Prime Minister to be incarcerated in Israeli history. 

"Olmert's sentence, and the reasons behind it, release the Israeli public from Olmert's mask of lies and his associates' deception," MK Shelly Yechimovich (Labor) stated. "This provides an important lesson and deters public officials from corruption. [The sentencing] is also a valuable message to the entire public: know today that the legal system is good and professional, that we do not bend the system for high-ranking public officials, and that we are restoring public confidence in the law." 

"We must condemn Olmert's dishonorable conduct, for which he and his associates were tried," she continued, saying they "slandered and intimidated for years any official or gatekeeper who tried to do his job" and said that such behavior continued during the trial.

"It is unfortunate that such a corrupt politician has become such a part of our lives," the former head of the Labor party added, "but there is reason to be proud of our clean democracy, where everyone is equal before the law, and justice is done and seen." 

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon also weighed in on the trial. 

"On the one hand, this is a sad day when a former prime minister was convicted of bribery and is sentenced," Ya'alon stated, speaking in the midst of a defense tour in the Golan Heights. "On the other hand, it is a badge of honor for the rule of Israeli law, the Israeli law enforcement system and society [itself]."

Meretz Chairman Zehava Gal-On welcomed the move.

"Olmert's verdict opens a new chapter of cleaning house and cleansing the Israeli political elite from corruption," she said. "It is good that the court, in the judgement and during the sentencing,  gave a clear and decisive political and public message: that corruption is a disgrace and a betrayal of public trust."

'Take Note'

Several MKs lauded the verdict as a lesson for public life. 

"This is a sad day, but it also awakens a sense of pride," MK Nahman Shai (Labor) stated. "The Holyland Affair is, for now and forever, a red mark on the history of Israel." 

"What happened here cannot happen again," he continued. "Every public official, every leader needs to place the impact of this verdict before him [in his daily life]." 

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) agreed. 

"This morning, the court exacted a clear 'price tag' on corruption in the State of Israel," she said. "The statement that accepting bribes is a grave offense is, in particular, an important lesson that should be learned by all elected public officials." 

"Today we received a resounding reminder of what corruption looks like in the Israeli government," MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid) added. "I congratulate the court on this important verdict. Our goal is to prevent the next Holyland Affair from occurring, and now it is more important than ever to strengthen the position of council members as the gatekeepers of public interest." 

'Corruption is everywhere'

Other MKs welcomed the verdict, but also took the opportunity to note that there is a long road ahead. 

"Olmert's sentence joins the parade of shame politicians into the walls of the prison and is indicative of the real danger to democracy - the corruption of public officials," Meretz MK Michal Rozin said. 

"The Holyland Affair demonstrates that behind every environmental injustice is corruption," MK Dov Henin (Hadash) fired. "Planning and construction, using big money - it's tempting to take shortcuts." 

"We therefore need to strengthen transparency and control [over big projects]," he continued. "We need to move in the opposite direction of Netanyahu's reforms, who seeks to erase the gatekeepers and remove environmental protection in favor of backdoor real estate deals." 

The Jewish Home party said in a statement following the verdicts: “This is a sad day for the citizens of Israel, and an important day for the state of Israel, which showed that there is no favoritism in its justice system, even toward the most senior of its citizens. There is no one who is free from searching his soul on a day such as this.”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who is a personal friend of Olmert's, said: “The day in which a former prime minister is sent to jail is a sad one for Israeli democracy, and sad for me personally. Yet it is an important day, in which the justice system showed that no one is above the law.”

MK Micky Rosenthal (Labor) xalled the sentence meted out to Olmert a “measured and just” one. “When you think about the punishment, think what bribery does to Israeli society. Bribery gives people of means things and accomplishments that the public does not receive, at the public's expense.”

"There is no shadenfreude here, only a defense of Israeli democracy,” Rosenthal said. “One cannot just say that corruption is crushing democratic society, but take steps to defeat it, and deterrent punishment is part of the process of cleaning out the stables.”

Labor party head MK Yitzchak Herzog said Tuesday that “the sentence handed down this morning proves that Israel has an independent justice system, and the same law applies to the prime minister and to ordinary citizens. All are equal before the law.”

"The law enforcement systems showed that they know how to clean up the public system and remove unwanted phenomena that chip away at the deliacte tissue of the public's trust in its elected officials. Personally, this is a sad day for those who knew Olmert personally over the years.”