Seven of the ten people convicted arrived in Tel Aviv’s District Court Tuesday to receive their sentences from Judge David Rosen. They were all involved in corruption surrounding a large real estate deal known as the Holyland project, in Jerusalem.
The convicted men, besides Olmert, are former prime minister Olmert; Holyland entrepreneurs Hillel Cherney and Avigdor Kellner; Meir Rabin, the right-hand man of the late Shmuel Dachner, who was the state’s witness in the trial; former Jerusalem city engineer, Uri Sheetrit; City councilor Eliezer Simhayof and Danny Dankner, former CEO of Bank Hapoalim.
Defendant #1, Entrepreneur Hillel Cherney was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail, and another 1.5 of them as a suspended sentence.
Defendant #2, Avigdor Kellner received 3 years in jail and another 2 years’ suspended sentence.
Defendant #5, Meir Rabin, was sentenced to 5 years in jail and 2 years’ suspended sentence.
Defendant #7, Uri Sheetrit, was sentenced to 7 years in jail, and 2 years’ suspended sentence.
Danny Dankner received 3 years in jail and Eliezer Simhayof received 3.5 years in jail.
Olmert expected the worst and released a statement through an attorney before the sentencing, in which he said: “This is a sad day. A day in which an innocent man will be sentenced.”
In his remarks before reading out the sentences, the judge made clear that stiff punishment would follow. The “malignant disease must be rooted out,” said the judge about the corruption that Ehud Olmert instituted at the Jerusalem Municipality together with defendant #7, the former city engineer.
“Bribery offenses contaminate the public sector; bribery causes the structure of government to collapse,” said the judge. He used the word “traitor” to describe a public official who takes bribes.
“People who receive bribes give rise to a feeling of disgust and cause the public to despise the state’s institutions,” said Judge Rosen. “The taker of bribes is like a traitor who betrays the public trust that was given to him – trust without which a proper public service cannot be maintained. “
Rosen promised before the sentencing that he would hand down the “proper punishments.” The State Attorney’s Office asked the judge to setence Olmert to no less than six years in jail for the two counts of bribery he was convicted of. Attorney Yehonatan Tadmor, who represented the prosecution, explained that the sentences in the case need “to reverberate.”
The prosecution demanded that Danny Dankner be sentenced to 5-8 years in jail for three bribery counts; at least 8 years in jail and millions of dollars in fines for Cherney and Kellner; 5-7 years for Rabin and 3.5 years for Simhayof.
Shula Zaken, who was Olmert’s bureau chief for many years, turned state witness in the late stages of the trial, and signed a plea deal that will send her to 11 months in jail. Her sentence will likely be given in a closed door session Thursday.
Two other men convicted in the case, former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupoliansky and former Jerusalem councillor Avraham Feiner, will be sentenced on June 9, since they are both suffering from bad health.
MKs and public figures have begun reacting to Olmert’s sentencing, as he is apparently 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.”
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) called 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 delicate 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.”