14 April 2006 – 31 March 2009
Acting: 4 January 2006 – 14 April 2006*
|Preceded by||Ariel Sharon|
|Succeeded by||Benjamin Netanyahu|
1993 – 2003
|Preceded by||Teddy Kollek|
|Succeeded by||Uri Lupolianski|
|Born||30 September 1945
Binyamina, British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel)
|Political party||Kadima (2006–present)|
|Alma mater||Hebrew University of Jerusalem|
|*Under the Basic Laws of Israel, Olmert was only the Interim Prime Minister of Israel (distinct from both forms of Acting Prime Ministers of Israel) from 14 April 2006 to 4 May 2006.|
Ehud Olmert (Hebrew: אהוד אולמרט, IPA: [ɛˈhud ˈolmeʁt] ( listen), born 30 September 1945) is an Israeli political figure, and former Prime Minister of Israel having served from 2006 to 2009. Olmert was the mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003. In 2003 he was elected to the Knesset and became a 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.
Throughout his premiership, Olmert was accused of corruption. Facing a challenge for the leadership of Kadima from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, on 30 July 2008, Olmert announced that he would not seek re-election as party leader and that he would resign from his position as Prime Minister immediately after a new Kadima leader was named. Livni won the contest and sought to form a new government in September of that year. However, Livni's attempts at forming a new government were unsuccessful and instead an election was scheduled for February 2009. On February 20, Israeli President, Shimon Peres, chose Benjamin Netanyahu to become the new Prime Minister and asked him to form a Coalition Government, after there was no clear victory in the elections. Netanyahu succeeded Olmert on 31 March 2009.
On August 30, 2009 an indictment against former prime minister Ehud 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' .
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, and Olmert succeeded in opening 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.
In 1966, during the Gahal party convention (a predecessor to today's Likud), party leader Menachem Begin was challenged by the young Olmert, who called for his resignation. Begin announced that he would retire from party leadership, but soon reversed his decision when the crowd emotionally pleaded with him to stay.
Olmert was first elected to the Knesset in 1973 at the age of 28 and was re-elected seven consecutive times. Between 1981 and 1989, he served as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and served on the Finance, Education and Defense Budget Committees. He served as Minister without Portfolio, responsible for minority affairs between 1988 and 1990, and as Minister of Health from 1990 until 1992. Following Likud's defeat in the 1992 election, instead of remaining a Knesset member in the opposition, he successfully ran for Mayor of Jerusalem in November 1993.
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 in 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."
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.
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."
When Sharon announced his leaving the Likud and the formation of a new party, Kadima, Olmert was one of the first to join him.
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, whom 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 announced, 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.
On 7 March 2006, it was disclosed that an inquiry was being carried out on the 1999 sale and lease-back of Olmert's Jerusalem house, which allegedly was done on financial terms very favorable to Olmert, in what would amount to an illegal campaign contribution and/or bribe. A criminal investigation regarding the matter was formally launched on 24 September 2007.
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).
On 4 May 2006 Olmert presented his new government to the Knesset. Olmert became Prime Minister and Minister for Welfare. The control over Welfare Ministry was expected to be given to United Torah Judaism if it would join the government. The post was later given to Labor's Isaac Herzog.
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.
Following the 2006 Lebanon War, Olmert's popularity ratings fell, and on 15 September 2006, former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon publicly stated that Olmert should resign. In May 2007, Olmert's approval rating fell to 3 percent, and he became the subject of a Google Bomb for the Hebrew for "miserable failure".
On 9 December 2006 Olmert stated that he could not rule out the possibility of a military attack against Iran, and called for the international community to step up action against the country. He called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to destroy Israel "absolutely criminal", and said that he expected "more dramatic steps to be taken."
In an interview with German TV network Sat.1 on 11 December 2006, he appeared to include Israel in a list of nuclear powers, a statement which his office has characterised as an unintentional mistake in translation. He has nonetheless come under harsh criticism from both ends of the Israeli political spectrum due to the perceived threat to Israel's policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear status.
Olmert welcomed the Arab League's 2007 re-endorsement of the Arab Peace Initiative. Olmert wrote in The Guardian newspaper that Israel was ready to make "painful concessions" to achieve peace with the Palestinians. "I take the offer of full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world seriously; and I am ready to discuss the Arab peace initiative in an open and sincere manner. Working with our Jordanian and Egyptian partners, and hopefully other Arab states, we must pursue a comprehensive peace with energy and vision.... But the talks must be a discussion, not an ultimatum."
On 4 November 2007, he declared Israel's intention to negotiate with the Palestinians about all issues, stating, "Annapolis will be the jumping-off point for continued serious and in-depth negotiations, which will not avoid any issue or ignore any division that has clouded our relations with the Palestinian people for many years." On 29 November 2007, he warned of the end of Israel in case a two-state solution is not eventually found for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished," Olmert said on the last day of the Annapolis Conference. "The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us," Olmert said, "because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents."
Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Israel occurred frequently throughout the Spring and Summer of 2008 until a ceasefire was agreed to 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". On 25 December, Olmert delivered a 'last minute' warning to Gaza in direct appeal to Gaza's people via the Arabic language satellite channel al-Arabiya, to pressure their leaders to stop the barrages. "I am telling them now, it may be the last minute, I'm telling them stop it. We are stronger," he said. The attacks did not stop and Israel launched its military operation, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, on the morning of 27 December, when more than 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters began to bomb strategic targets. Air strikes continued for days, when on 3 January 2009 the IDF began a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution on 8 January 2009 calling for an immediate ceasefire to the hostilities in the Gaza Strip. It passed 14–0–1, with one abstention from the United States. Olmert told reporters, "[U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] was left shamed. A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favor. In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the Secretary of State wanted to lead the vote on a ceasefire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favor. I said 'get me President Bush on the phone'. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care. 'I need to talk to him now'. He got off the podium and spoke to me. I told him the United States could not vote in favor. It cannot vote in favor of such a resolution. He immediately called the Secretary of State and told her not to vote in favor." When asked about the comments a White House spokesman said that Olmert's version of events were "inaccurate". The war finally finished on 18 January 2009. A day before, Israeli officials announced a unilateral ceasefire, without an agreement with Hamas. In a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert declared the ceasefire effective that night, at 00:00 GMT on the 18th January.
On 30 July 2008 Olmert announced that he would not contest the Kadima party leadership election in September, and would resign from office once his party elects a new leader. In his resignation speech, he addressed the cases of corruption of which he is being accused, saying he is "proud to be a citizen of a country in which a Prime Minister can be investigated like any other citizen," but also stated he "was forced to defend [himself] from ceaseless attacks by the self-appointed soldiers of justice, who sought to oust [him] from [his] position." The move has been interpreted as signaling the end of Olmert's political career.
Many politicians across the political spectrum praised Olmert's decision to resign. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said "the personal decision was not simple, but it was a correct one. Kadima must continue to act in a way that will preserve its unity and ability to lead." Defense Minister and Labor party leader Ehud Barak called Olmert's announcement "a proper and responsible decision made at the right time." Opposition leaders called for the resignation to be followed by general elections. Likud party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, called for snap elections: "It doesn't matter who heads Kadima. They are all partners in this government's total failure. National responsibility requires a return to the people and new elections."
After Tzipi Livni won the leadership election, Olmert officially resigned but remained Prime Minister, according to the dictates of the law. Even after an official resignation, he remains in power until a new Prime Minister is sworn in, in order to prevent a government void . Livni tried unsuccessfully to form a new coalition government. After Livni announced she could not form the new government, new parliamentary elections were set for 10 February 2009, and Olmert remained in power until after the elections, just as the law dictates.
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 to press charges were made.
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 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.
On 26 November 2008, Attorney General Meni Mazuz, had informed Olmert that he decided to file an indictment against him in what has come to be known as "Rishontours" affair, pending a hearing before the attorney general. Olmert would speak abroad on behalf of groups such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a support group for the IDF or a charity for mentally disabled Israeli children, Rishon Tours then billed each group for the same trip as if they alone were paying and placed the money in special bank account allegedly for Olmert's personal use. However, legally, he is presumed innocent until the trial's final verdict is in, and thus may continue to perform his duties as Prime Minister until a new Prime Minister is sworn in.
On 1 March 2009, Attorney General Meni Mazuz, had informed Olmert's legal representatives, that he decided to file an indictment against him in what has come to be known as "cash envelopes" affair, pending a hearing before the attorney general 
Although a frequent target of corruption allegations, Olmert has never yet been convicted of a crime.
On August 30, 2009 an indictment against former prime minister Ehud 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 is 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. Some people believe that 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 their 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.
In October 2007, Olmert announced that he had prostate cancer. His doctors declared it to be a minor risk. In April 2009, Olmert's spokesman issued a statement indicating that Olmert's cancer had deteriorated.
|Prime Minister of
|Party political offices|
|Chairman of Kadima