(Israel Twitter)Ehud Olmert,אהוד אולמרט, IPA: [eˈhud ˈolmeʁt, born 30 September 1945) is an Israeli politician and lawyer. He served as Prime Minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009, as a Cabinet Minister from 1988 to 1992 and from 2003 to 2006, and as Mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003.
In 2003 Olmert was re-elected to the Knesset (he had earlier served eight terms), and became a Cabinet Minister and Acting Prime Minister in the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. On 4 January 2006, after Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke, Olmert began exercising the powers of the office of Prime Minister. Olmert led Kadima to a victory in the March 2006 elections (just two months after Sharon had suffered his stroke), and continued on as Acting Prime Minister. On 14 April, two weeks after the election, Sharon was declared permanently incapacitated, allowing Olmert to legally become Interim Prime Minister. Less than a month later, on 4 May, Olmert and his new, post-election government were approved by the Knesset, thus Olmert officially became Prime Minister of Israel.
Olmert and his government enjoyed healthy relations with the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority, which culminated in November 2007 at the Annapolis Conference. However, during his tenure as Prime Minister, there were major military conflicts with both Hezbollah and Hamas (predominately in the Gaza Strip). Olmert and Minister of Defense Amir Peretz were heavily criticized for their handling of the 2006 Lebanon War. In late 2008, a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel ended, which led to the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict. Olmert declared that the Israeli Defense Force would target the Hamas leadership and infrastructure in the war.
lmert was born near Binyamina in the British Mandate of Palestine. According to Olmert, his parents, Bella and Mordechai escaped "persecution in Ukraine and Russia, and found sanctuary in Harbin, China. They emigrated to Israel to fulfill their dream of building a Jewish and democratic state living in peace in the land of our ancestors." His father later became a member of the Knesset for Herut.
Olmert's childhood included membership in the Beitar Youth Organization and dealing with the fact that his parents were often blacklisted and alienated due to their affiliation with the Jewish militia group the Irgun. They were also part of Herut, the opposition to the long-ruling Mapai party. However, by the 1970s this was proving less detrimental to one's career than during the 1950s.
Education, military service
Olmert graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with degrees in psychology, philosophy and law. He opened a successful law partnership in Jerusalem.
Olmert served with the Israel Defense Forces in the Golani combat brigade. While in service he was injured and temporarily released. He underwent many treatments, and later completed his military duties as a journalist for the IDF magazine BaMahane. During the Yom Kippur War he joined the headquarters of Ariel Sharon as a military correspondent. Already a member of the Knesset, he decided to go through an officer's course in 1980 at the age of 35.
Mayor of Jerusalem
Between 1993 and 2003, Olmert served two terms as Mayor of Jerusalem, the first member of Likud or its precursors to hold the position. During his term in office, he devoted himself to the initiation and advancement of major projects in the city, the development and improvement of the education system, and the development of road infrastructure. He also spearheaded the development of the light rail system in Jerusalem, and the investment of millions of shekels in the development of mass transportation options for the city.
While Mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert was an invited speaker at an international conflict resolution conference held in Derry, Northern Ireland. In his address, he spoke of how "Political leaders can help change the psychological climate which affects the quality of relationships among people." His speech concluded with reflections on the importance of political process in overcoming differences: "How are fears born? They are born because of differences in tradition and history; they are born because of differences in emotional, political and national circumstances. Because of such differences, people fear they cannot live together. If we are to overcome such fear, a credible and healthy political process must be carefully and painfully developed. A political process that does not aim to change the other or to overcome differences, but that allows each side to live peacefully in spite of their differences.
Deputy leader of Israel
Olmert was elected as a member of the sixteenth Knesset in January 2003. He served as the head of the election campaign for Likud in the elections, and subsequently was the chief negotiator of the coalition agreement. Following the elections he was appointed as Designated Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. From 2003 to 2004, he also served as Minister of Communications.
On 7 August 2005, Olmert was appointed acting Finance Minister, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu, who had resigned in protest against the planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Olmert, who had originally opposed withdrawing from land captured in the Six-Day War, and who had voted against the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978, is a vocal supporter of the Gaza pullout. After his appointment, Olmert said:
"I voted against Menachem Begin, I told him it was a historic mistake, how dangerous it would be, and so on and so on. Now I am sorry he is not alive for me to be able to publicly recognize his wisdom and my mistake. He was right and I was wrong. Thank God we pulled out of the Sinai.
Acting Prime Minister
On 4 January 2006, as the designated Acting Prime Minister, Olmert became Acting Prime Minister as a result of the serious stroke suffered by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This occurred after consultations took place between Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who declared Sharon "temporarily incapable to carry out the duties of his office", while only officially in office. Then, Olmert and the cabinet reaffirmed in an announcement that the 28 March elections would be held as scheduled.
During the days following the stroke, Olmert met with Shimon Peres and other Sharon supporters to try to convince them to stay with Kadima, rather than return to Likud or, in Peres' case, Labor. On 16 January 2006 Olmert was elected chairman of Kadima, and Kadima's candidate for Prime Minister in the upcoming election. In his first major policy address after becoming caretaker Prime Minister, on 24 January 2006 Olmert stated that he backed the creation of a Palestinian state, and that Israel would have to relinquish parts of the West Bank to maintain its Jewish majority. At the same time, he said, "We firmly stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire Land of Israel." In a number of interviews he also introduced his convergence plan.
Wins national election
In the election, Kadima won 29 seats, making it the largest party. On 6 April Olmert was officially asked by President Moshe Katsav to form a government. Olmert had an initial period of 28 days to form a governing coalition, with a possible two-week extension. On 11 April the Israeli Cabinet deemed that Sharon was incapacitated. The 100-day replacement deadline was extended due to the Jewish festival of Passover, and a provision was made that, should Sharon's condition improve between 11 April and 14 April, the declaration would not take effect. Therefore, the official declaration took effect on 14 April, formally ending Sharon's term as Prime Minister and making Olmert the country's new Interim Prime Minister in office (he would not become the official Prime Minister until he formed a government).
Addresses U.S. Congress
On 24 May 2006 Olmert was invited to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He stated that his government would proceed with the disengagement plan if it could not come to agreement with the Palestinians. Olmert was the third Israeli Prime Minister to have been invited to speak at a joint session of Congress.
Gaza rocket attacks increase
Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian terrorists from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Israel occurred frequently throughout the spring and summer of 2008, until a ceasefire was agreed between Hamas and Israel in June. Rocket attacks increased sharply in November after an Israeli raid on an Hamas-built smuggling tunnel. The ceasefire expired in December 2008 and negotiations stalled between the two parties to renew the ceasefire. On 24 December, the Negev was hit by more than 60 mortar shells and Katyusha and Qassam rockets, and the IDF was given a green light to operate. Hamas claimed to have fired a total of 87 rockets and mortar rounds that day at Israel, code-naming the firing "Operation Oil Stain.
Corruption and bribery criminal investigations
On 16 January 2007, a criminal investigation was initiated against Olmert. The investigation focused on suspicions that during his tenure as Finance Minister, Olmert tried to steer the tender for the sale of Bank Leumi in order to help Slovak-born Australian real estate baron Frank Lowy, a close personal associate. Israeli Police who investigated the case eventually concluded that the evidence that was collected was insufficient for indictment, and no recommendations were made to press charges.
In April 2007 it was further alleged that, during his office as Minister of Trade, Industry and Labor, Olmert may have been guilty of criminal behavior by taking an active part in an investment center. During a parliamentary inquest in July 2007, Olmert flatly denied these accusations.
In May 2008, it became public that Olmert was the subject of yet another police investigation. The investigation concerns bribery allegations. Olmert said that he took campaign contributions from the Jewish-American businessman Morris Talansky when he was running for Mayor of Jerusalem, leadership of the Likud and candidacy in the Likud list for the Knesset, but resisted calls to resign, and stated: "I never took bribes, I never took a penny for myself. I was elected by you, citizens of Israel, to be the Prime Minister and I don't intend to shirk this responsibility. If Attorney General Meni Mazuz, decides to file an indictment, I will resign from my position, even though the law does not oblige me to do so." On 23 May National Fraud Squad investigators interrogated Olmert for an hour in his Jerusalem residence for a second time about corruption allegations. On 27 May Morris Talansky testified in front of court that over the last 15 years he gave Olmert more than $150,000 in cash in envelopes. On 6 September 2008 Israeli police recommended that criminal charges should be brought against Olmert.
Indicted on five counts
On August 30, 2009 an indictment against former prime minister Olmert was served at the Jerusalem District Court. The indictment includes the following counts: obtaining by fraud under aggravating circumstances, fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and tax evasion. The indictment refers to three out of the four corruption-related cases standing against him: 'Rishontours', 'Talansky' (Also known as 'Money envelopes' affair), and the 'Investment Center'. This was the first indictment of someone who has ever held the office of Israeli Prime Minister.
Olmert's wife, Aliza, is a writer of novels and theater plays, as well as an artist. Aliza is more left-leaning in her politics than her husband. She claimed to have voted for him for the first time in 2006.
The couple has four biological children and an adopted daughter. The oldest daughter, Michal, holds a Masters in psychology and leads workshops in creative thinking. Their daughter Dana is a lecturer in literature at the Tel Aviv University, and the editor of a literature series. She is a lesbian, and lives with her partner in Tel Aviv. Her parents are accepting of her sexual orientation and partner. Dana is active in the Jerusalem branch of the Israeli human rights organization Machsom Watch. In June 2006 she attended a march in Tel Aviv protesting alleged Israeli complicity in the Gaza beach blast, which made her the subject of bitter criticism from right-wing personalities.
Their son Shaul Olmert married an Israeli artist, and lives in New York. He is currently a Vice-President at Nickelodeon. After Shaul had finished his military service, he signed a petition of the Israeli left-wing organization Yesh Gvul. He later became the spokesman of Beitar Jerusalem, his father's favorite soccer team. This team is often associated with the Israeli right. Olmert's younger son Ariel, who did not serve in the IDF, studies French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. Shuli is the Olmerts' adopted daughter; she was orphaned from her mother at birth.
Olmert's father Mordechai, a pioneer of Israel's land settlement and a former member of the Second and Third Knessets, grew up in the Chinese city of Harbin, where he led the local Betar youth movement. Olmert's grandfather J.J. Olmert settled in Harbin after fleeing post-World War I Russia. In 2004, Olmert visited China and paid his respects at the tomb of his grandfather in Harbin. Olmert said that his father had never forgotten his Chinese hometown after moving to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine, in 1933 at the age of 22. "When he died at the age of 88, he spoke his last words in Mandarin Chinese", he recalled.