In a word: Disgusting. And even that doesn’t serve to fully express the sense of nausea that emerges from the testimony of donor and fundraiser Morris Talansky, who for 15 years, it appears, made sure to maintain the lavish lifestyle of an Israeli mayor and minister.
The testimony that was heard Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court is not only dramatic; it’s shocking. It is shocking that a public servant demands and receives cash donations, with no receipts, and without any records being kept. It is shocking to think that such senior public figure uses the credit card of an American Jew in order to finance his expenses.
It is shocking that an Israeli public servant receives a $25,000 gift in order to finance a family vacation. It is shocking that a public figure receives gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels for first class upgrades, luxury hotels, restaurants, and vacations. It is shocking to hear about huge loans that were never paid back, even though they loaner demanded payment.
It is possible that parts of the testimony we heard Tuesday are untrue. Other parts may be inaccurate. There are also things that must have an explanation. And perhaps it will turn out that there was no criminal offense here. Yet the behavior described by Talansky is embarrassing and revolting even if we weren’t talking about a public figure: There is nothing sexy about people who live at the expense of others only to satisfy their desires and ostentatious lifestyle. It is much more shocking and horrifying when we are talking about a minister in the Israeli government.
In recent days we heard that Morris Talansky is a problematic witness. He’s old, confused, and emotional, we were told. On occasion he breaks into tears. He even sang to his interrogators. If only that was the case, and we could blame the problematic nature of the witness rather than the prime minister’s conduct. Yet it appears that the witness is far from being the way he was described.
Old? Maybe. Confused? He actually sounded coherent and showed great memory. Emotional? Who said that’s a disadvantage? The emotions and crying outbursts actually gave a sense that we are dealing with an authentic testimony. Is he a witness who is not innocent and is trying to save his skin? Could be, yet this does not mitigate the severity of the evidence against Olmert.
There is no way to mitigate the power of the testimony the Israeli public was forced to hear on Tuesday. What we heard is terrible. Whether this is bribery, or merely a permissible gift, or a breach of trust, either criminal or moral - this is not the issue here. The issue is the disgust and nausea that emerges when one hears about the natural, taken for granted manner with which an elected official receives huge sums of money in envelopes, by credit card, as a loan, or just in the form of an upgrade. Where is the modesty? Where is the shame? What kind of place do we live in?
It is possible that this entire testimony, which at this time seems robust and credible, will ultimately collapse. Things like that have happened before. The problem is that until the middle of July we are stuck with this testimony, which puts the prime minister in a very problematic light. On Tuesday we could already identify the line of defense that would be presented by aides and spokesmen in response to Talansky’s testimony: Olmert hadn’t done a thing that politicians didn’t do before him. This is how politicians conduct themselves, including the cash-filled envelopes.
Olmert’s attorneys also did not attempt to undermine Talansky’s testimony. They did not ask even one question that would crack the cement wall presented by the witness from America. Attorney Eli Zohar asked that we exercise patience. Yet this request is too much: Talansky will be leaving to the United States today while leaving behind a prime minister who faces countless offences, even if only parts of the testimony are true.
And with all due respect, there is a limit to patience as well.