The end of Ehud Olmert’s prime ministership, if not his political career, is nigh. Today, the gag order was lifted on his bribery case and he told the nation that if indicted, he would resign. It seems almost impossible that Olmert will not be indicted (though it’s still a slim possibility). If so, it would likely mean the end of the career of a politician who had nine lives, if not more.
Haaretz reveals that Long Island Orthodox Jewish fundraiser, Morris Talansky, funneled “hundreds of thousands of dollars” into Olmert’s coffers in the 1990s while he was mayor of Jerusalem and a government minister:
Long Island Jewish American mogul and millionaire financier Morris Talansky, who is suspected of bribing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is described by acquaintances as a man who keeps his business affairs out of the spotlight.
Although he is a known fundraiser for and contributor to Jewish causes in the United States and Israel, nobody seems to know how he made his money. Moreover, though he has participated in dozens of public events, his photograph cannot be found on the Internet.
Olmert appears to claim that the funds were used for political purposes. It appears that the police believe Olmert used the money for himself.
One should add that Ehud Olmert is not the only Israeli politician suspected of corruption. Ariel Sharon’s son Omri, is serving time in an Israeli prison for political corruption. Most of Israel’s recent prime minister’s have been accused of similar activities.
Talansky is an interesting, if shadowy figure. Though he was trained as an Orthodox rabbi, he seems to have turned to non-profit Jewish fundraising. He spent 20 years as executive director of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center. As the Orthodox hospital is located in Jerusalem, Talansky engaged Olmert numerous times to speak at charity events on its behalf:
Talansky makes some of his money by fundraising and consulting for Israeli and Jewish charity organizations. Among other things, he held a key post in the New Jerusalem Fund’s U.S. office; in the past, he also raised money for the ORT network.
However, Talansky made his name largely due to the funds he raised as executive director of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which solicits overseas donations for the Jerusalem hospital. A Jewish activist in Brooklyn said Talansky was “the main New York activist for Shaare Zedek. In his heyday, he raised millions of dollars for the hospital.”
“He didn’t bother with small contributions, he went for the big ones,” the activist added.
It was during this period that Talansky met Olmert, who, during his 10-year term as mayor of Jerusalem, was frequently featured at Shaare Zedek dinners and other fundraising events sponsored by the medical center.
I too have been a fundraiser for Jewish non-profits. I suspect, without any direct proof, that Talansky may’ve introduced Shaare Zedek’s wealthier donors to Olmert and persuaded them to become donors to his political career. [UPDATE: The Forward seems to confirm this notion.] It is very flattering for a certain class of wealthy American Jew to hobnob with Israeli politicians, as it would be for a wealthy American to hobnob with presidential candidates.
It is also possible that Talansky may’ve had a financial motivation if he took a cut of every donation given to Olmert by a prospect the former referred to the latter. Though it is possible that Talansky had personal wealth of his own in those days to give to Olmert, as a salaried Jewish fundraiser I don’t know where he would’ve found such wherewithal. It seems more likely to me that Talansky would’ve been a conduit rather than the source of funds.
After reading this N.Y. Times story Talansky looks more and more like a character from opera bouffe or a bad Mafia spoof. He meets unsavory characters at Manhattan topless bars and solicits them to beat up on deadbeats who’ve cheated him in business deals. Yup, Rabbi Moshe Talansky frequents topless bars. A fellow Manhattan lawyer calls him the “Lawyer’s Full Employment Act” because he’s so litigious. He even sued for alleged breach of contract a Jewish museum which had hired him as a fundraising consultant and fired him after a few months. My guess is he never showed up and never raised a dime.
Olmert’s top aide listed Talansky in her schedule as “the laundryman.” “Bag man” would’ve been closer to the truth. Given Talansky’s history are we surprised Olmert agreed to resign if indicted? Imagine how many more skeletons might be rattling around in Talansky’s closet.
Ynet claims that Olmert’s former law and business partner is cooperating with authorities against him. Not a good sign which perhaps explains the doom and gloom emanating from the PM’s office.
A couple of questions are going through my mind. I haven’t heard of any motive for Talansky’s alleged contributions or bribes (except for the scenario I advanced above). Did he get anything in return or was he doing it out of friendship to Olmert? Can there be a bribery conviction if the police can’t point to a benefit Talansky got in return for the funds?
Olmert will claim the funds were meant for political purposes, which still might’ve been illegal but at least not bribery. Does Olmert have to prove that he used them for political purposes? What if neither the police nor Olmert can actually document with certainty what he actually used the funds for?
I realize that the Israeli media is going through the usual “this is it for Olmert” shtick, as they did more than once in the past. I think it is too early to write him off. Bribery is very hard to prove…after all, what did this Mr T get in return? Olmert is a smart guy and very well off, so can’t believe he would take so much money and leave himself open to prosecution.
Look at the Katsav case. After months of the most horrific accusations leaked by the police, Attorney General Mazuz agreed to a plea-bargain on a minor charge, after the Jerusalem District State Prosecutor (and another one I can’t recall) told Mazuz that the State didn’t have a case. This is what lead Katsav to reject the plea-bargain in the end.
Don’t write Olmert’s political obituary yet.