Ehud Olmert and Israel’s Leftist Media

JERUSALEM—Here in Israel, one huge story that made headlines this week is the partial acquittal of former prime minister Ehud Olmert. In 2009 Olmert was forced to resign after being accused of fraud, corruption and accepting bribes. This past Tuesday, Israeli courts acquitted him of the most serious charges and found him guilty only of breach of trust.

After a sensational three-year trial, the verdict means Olmert can walk away largely unscathed. With his sentencing scheduled for September, jail time for the former prime minister is unlikely, though he may be barred from serving in the Knesset for some years.

Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post made some important points recently about Olmert’s unpopularity here in Israel and the media frenzy surrounding these charges of corruption.

Olmert deserves to be harshly criticized, Glick says. Objectively speaking, he was the worst prime minister that Israel has ever had, she wrote. “Olmert lost the war with Hezbollah in 2006. He lost Israel’s campaign against Hamas in 2008-2009. He failed to block Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. He weakened Israel’s international position and its alliance with the U.S. And so on and so forth” (July 11).

But what’s even more despicable than Olmert’s failures as prime minister, Glick points out, is how the media rushed to crucify a weak leader, rather than accept blame for its own crucial role in Israel’s string of defeats.

“The Israeli media specifically, and the left generally, holds the lion’s share of responsibility for the outbreak of the 2006 war due to its massive propaganda campaign to coerce successive governments into withdrawing from southern Lebanon in 2000,” Glick wrote. “Had Israel not run away in May 2000, Hezbollah would not have been free to attack Israel in 2006. It’s that simple.”

But because the media was unwilling to admit its role in this catastrophic loss, it deceitfully shifted the blame elsewhere. Israelis wanted a scapegoat—and so the media quickly found one, in Ehud Olmert,

“They decided that Olmert had to be sacrificed to protect their ideology. And so he was. It is a scandal of historic proportions that Olmert was ousted for anything other than his unforgivably failed leadership of the country in war. His alleged corruption was at best a tertiary concern,” she wrote.

That, Glick said, is the problem with putting politicians on trial. When all of them are arguably corrupt to some degree, the decision to single one out for investigation is already biased. And when much weightier issues are at play and the purpose of a trial is simply to divert the public’s attention, then it’s all the more reprehensible.