[EXCLUSIVE] Olmert: ‘A return to public life not currently on my agenda’

In his first media comment since the report that he asked President Rivlin for clemency, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declines to elaborate on his personal agenda.

By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday confirmed to World Israel News (WIN) that he had indeed presented a request to President Reuven Rivlin asking him to expunge his criminal record. In his first public comment on the matter, Olmert told WIN that public disclosure of the clemency request was not made by him.

Olmert declined comment on his plans should he receive clemency, but did say, “A return to public life is not currently on my agenda.”

The President’s Residence issued a statement confirming, “A pardon request on behalf of Ehud Olmert was submitted to annul the limitation period and expunge his criminal record. The request was forwarded to the relevant parties and after the requisite legal opinions are provided, the request will be brought to the president for decision.”

A few months ago, Rivlin accepted a request by Olmert to remove parole conditions that would have prevented him from leaving the country to attend ‘The Jerusalem Post Conference’ on April 29 in New York.

The State Attorney’s Office as well as the Justice Ministry’s pardons department will both consider Olmert’s requests to annul the ‘moral turpitude’ part of the sentence, which prevents him from reentering public for a seven year period. If Olmert’s record is indeed ‘pardoned’ by the president, it could pave the former premier’s way back into politics, less than a year after being released from prison.

Punished for his deeds

Olmert was released from Matisyahu Prison ‘on good behavior’ in July of last year, after serving 16 months of his 27 month prison term. The former premier was convicted of accepting about $15,000 in bribes while serving as trade minister, attempting to obstruct justice by influencing his former deputy Shula Zaken from testifying against him and for accepting money-filled envelopes from the American Jewish businessman Moshe Talansky in return for favors.

Agreeing to his early release, the parole board wrote, “With all the gravity of his various offenses…he was stained by corruption, and was punished for his deeds, paying a heavy price.”

The Movement for Quality Government wrote to Rivlin asking that he reject the pardon request, saying Olmert never admitted or expressed regret for his crimes.

Political Scientist Prof. Avraham Diskin from the Hebrew University said that the clemency request should be viewed as a first step toward an eventual attempt by Olmert to return to political life. Diskin told WIN,  “I believe he is currently exploring the possibility of a comeback. He is a man who carefully plans his moves, and he is right not to declare possible plans until the president has made a ruling.”

Diskin notes that Olmert and Rivlin have a long history dating back to their many years together in the Jerusalem branch of the Likud party. But at the same time he is doubtful that Rivlin will go out on a limb for Olmert.  “Rivlin is a cautious man and I am doubtful that he will allow his personal relationship with Olmert influence his decision to grant clemency,” he said.

Laying the groundwork for return to public life

Diskin believes that Olmert has many supporters who are urging him to launch a comeback. “There are senior and very serious and respectable people who admired Olmert’s abilities and long for his return to public life.” According to Diskin, “Olmert’s recent authoring of his biography presenting his version of history is laying the groundwork for an eventual return to public life.”

Diskin does not see a clear or easy path for Olmert’s return to political life. “A return to the Knesset could conceivably happen because he has had a long history and friendship with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. But taking in Olmert would involve risks by association. I could see him returning as a kind of adviser. He would of course like to return as prime minister but that is not realistic. He is a very smart and talented man, but I do not see him being able to return to the top,” he said.

Political pundit Mitchell Barak from Keevoon Strategies told WIN  that much of the Israeli public would accept Olmert’s return if it serves the interests of their worldview. “Israelis vote based on perceived existential issues. If they think Olmert’s return could add to Israeli security they would look past his criminal record. For example, Aryeh Deri served time in prison for corruption and he is now back serving as Minister of Interior. Part of  Jewish tradition is to sin, and then repent. Israel also has a tradition of recycling leaders,” he said.

Barak says that the bigger problem for Olmert would be to find a political party that will welcome his back. Barak explained, “Kadima no longer exists. Lapid has a record as “Mr. Clean” and he does not want to spoil that by taking in a convicted felon.”