Beinisch: Media to blame for public’s loss of faith in courts

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Talansky tries to hide pain, anger in final day under fire
Last update – 01:42 22/07/2008 / By Anshel Pfeffer

American Jewish fund-raiser Morris Talansky tried hard to maintain his usual smiling appearance as he entered the Jerusalem District Court Monday for his fourth day of cross-examination by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s lawyers.

“I know all of you already,” he joked to the horde of photographers besieging him. Once in the courtroom, he used the brief wait for the judges to explain the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which was observed on Sunday, to those secular Jews present.

But his true feelings could be glimpsed in a quiet aside to an American journalist during a break in the proceedings: “For what they’ve done to me and members of my family, I hope God pays them.” By “they,” it is not clear whether he meant Olmert, the prime minister’s lawyers, the police, the prosecution, the media or perhaps all of them together. “And after all I gave to this country, and the institutions I helped to build,” he added.

Talansky is not one of America’s wealthiest Jews, but he is certainly part of that group that comes to Israel twice or thrice a year and stays either in Jerusalem’s best hotels or in luxury apartments in the capital. All are devoted Zionists who give large amounts of money to Israel themselves and solicit large contributions from others. Often, they have children living here. Yet they themselves remain observers, protected from the country’s troubles by their money and their American citizenship.

But for Talansky, that protection has evaporated in recent months. He has suffered exhausting and intrusive attention from law enforcement agencies, the media and, to a large extent, the entire Israeli public. And it reached its peak during his cross-examination.

Though he tried hard to hide his searing hurt, it occasionally broke through – as when attorney Navot Telzur questioned him repeatedly about his purchase of an apartment for himself on Jerusalem’s Diskin St. “I’m trying to remember as best as I can!” he finally shouted in exasperation. When confronted with the harsh comments he made during his police interrogations about attorney Uri Messer, a long-time friend of Olmert’s who handled Talansky’s purchase of the Diskin St. apartment, he was clearly appalled, and responded immediately: “I didn’t really say anything like that.” He referred to one of his interrogators as “one of the shouters.”

Though Talansky speaks decent Hebrew, he used an interpreter in court. Sometimes, the interpreter took pity on him and declined to translate the cynical comments with which Telzur often prefaced his questions. But Talansky may well have understood anyway: Often, he did not wait for the translation before starting to answer.

Toward the end of the day, he looked utterly spent. Over and over, he repeated the mantra: “I just don’t remember.” His bowed head rested on his hands; sometimes, he did not even bother raising it to answer.

Only once, however, did he let his feelings show openly – when he answered one question by saying: “If you only knew what has happened to me over the last three months.” He could not even drink a cup of coffee, he said, without “the tensions of family and all the rest.”

Olmert’s cronies have been saying they destroyed Talansky’s testimony. Prosecutors deny this, but add that in any case, they have plenty of other evidence. During one of the court’s recesses, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and another of Olmert’s lawyers, Roy Blecher, held a heated argument over who was to blame for all these leaks to the media.

As for Talansky, though his cross-examination had still not ended, he was almost forgotten, left alone on the sidelines.

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Beinisch: Media to blame for public’s loss of faith in courts
Jul 21, 2008 23:08 | Updated Jul 21, 2008 23:43 / By GREER FAY CASHMAN

In defending the integrity of the court system as the guardian of Israel’s democratic values, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch lashed out on Monday against public-opinion makers who, she said, were zealously laboring to transform the legal discourse into an unprofessional public debate with the aim of influencing the judicial process.

Journalists, public-relations people and lawyers for the involved parties choose to conduct their cases on the television screen, in the press and in public forums. This particular phenomenon, Beinisch asserted, was generated solely by the desire to whip up public opinion and thereby influence the courts and impinge on the legal process.

Beinisch was responding to findings in a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, which for the first time in years indicated that the public no longer regards the Supreme Court as the institution that best safeguards democracy.

Known as the Democracy Index, the annual survey measures the attitudes of the Israeli public toward the nation’s democratic institutions and values. The survey was conducted among 1201 adults, with a 2.8 percent error margin.

Although the actual Democracy Index report was presented to President Shimon Peres several weeks ago, responses by Peres, Beinisch and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were delayed until this week and were delivered at Beit Hanassi.

Beinisch said the preservation of democratic values in Israel was more difficult than in other countries, because such maintenance was conditioned by a war against terrorism that demanded measures that violated human rights.

“We have to find an equitable balance between public interest and the protection of those rights,” she said.

The Democracy Index also referred to the public’s disillusionment with both politics and politicians.

Livni said she didn’t need a survey to know the level of public confidence in the political echelon, “and I have no doubt that there is a process of erosion in public confidence in the courts.”

All sectors of the democratic system require introspection and repair, Livni asserted, cautioning that if this were not done, the public would distance itself from politics and politicians, as well as from exercising its most basic democratic right – the right to vote.

A strong leadership, she declared, was one that could cope not only with the dramas that beset Israel, but also with the temptations that exist daily in political life.

Peres, meanwhile, said democracy was not the nature of an administration, but something built on relationships. For instance, he said, while it was difficult to enforce traffic laws, accidents could be prevented by drivers’ attitudes and behavior.

Peres reiterated his frequent contention that Israel was not a corrupt country. If it were, he said, there wouldn’t be a war against corruption.

Peres blamed the election system for some of the existing corruption. It was not so bad when there were only two major political parties, he said, but with a lot of small parties it has become problematic, because they all need funding. He suggested tightening the threshold to make it more difficult for the smaller parties to win seats in the Knesset, and introducing regional elections.

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Talansky to Haaretz: Olmert most astute politician I’ve met
Thu., July 24, 2008 Tamuz 21, 5768 / By Anshel Pfeffer
Tags: Olmert, corruption, Talansky

“I believed that Ehud Olmert could be the one, the one with the way to bring people together,” American fund-raiser Morris Talansky said Tuesday, explaining his initial reason for joining forces with Ehud Olmert. Talansky, the key witness in the cash envelopes investigation against the prime minister, was speaking to Haaretz on his fifth and last day of cross-examinations by Olmert’s attorneys.

“I saw him already when [Olmert] was health minister, and how he helped Shaare Zedek Hospital” in Jerusalem, Talansky said. “How he brought together religious people and non-religious. He is very understanding, with a sharp intellect, incredible charisma. When he spoke he knew how to reflect the aspirations of a nation. I never met a man with such political astuteness.”

So what do you think of Olmert today, in light of the current investigation?

“It’s very confusing,” Talansky admitted. “I find it very hard, I can’t understand, the court and the public have to decide.”

The last significant meeting between the two was in New York in November 2005. That meeting figured greatly in yesterday’s court session. Two months later, Olmert was prime minister and had no time for his old friend.

Their last meeting was when Olmert addressed both houses of Congress, in May 2006. Talansky was invited to meet him by Olmert’s bureau chief, Shula Zaken, rather than by the prime minister himself.

“Afterward there was a small reception, but I wasn’t invited to it. I just went home,” Talansky recalled.

Were you disappointed?

“No, I understand that he has a country to run.”

Officially, Talansky is barred by the court from commenting publicly on the case, but that does not prevent him from expressing disappointment with his treatment by the defense, and he takes pains to stress that no one disputes the basic facts regarding the money received by Olmert.

Talansky seems to be searching for warmth and affection in Israel.

“Everywhere I go, people in the street say to me hazak ve’ematz [“be strong”],” Talansky said. “No one until now has shouted at me in the street,” he related with evident satisfaction.

He insists that despite the toll the case and its attendant depositions and cross-examination have taken on him, he is still a fervent Zionist.

“Israel is still the only place where the Jewish people can grow,” Talansky said.

Talansky rejects the direct and indirect attempts by Olmert’s associates to insinuate that he is an extreme right-winger who is trying to get back at the prime minister for his leftward turn.

“No way, I never gave any money to any of the Zionist organizations; I don’t march with them. I only give to medical and educational institutions,” Talansky insisted. He also says he was not bothered by Olmert’s decision to leave Likud and join Kadima.

Toward the end of the cross-examination, when the defense team brought up Talansky’s statement to the police about how he had given money to Yitzhak Rabin, then a rank-and-file Knesset member, when he spoke at a fund-raiser in the U.S. for Shaare Zedek, Talansky hung his head and told the court, “I apologize to the family and apologize for the story.”

Both before and after the session, however, he insisted to Haaretz, “What I said about Rabin is true – he also took money.”

Talansky said he had heard about the latest Olmert scandal, which Haaretz revealed last week, concerning the 1993 loan that Olmert received from Israeli-U.S. businessman Joe Elmaleh. “Yes I know him,” Talansky said. “He’s big in the oil business. I met him once. I know he was very close to Olmert.”

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‘PM probe embarrasses Diaspora’
Jul 17, 2008 23:12 | Updated Jul 18, 2008 7:57 / By HAVIV RETTIG AND AP
Talkbacks for this article: 15

PHOTO: Olmert waves to the public while sitting next to American billionaire Sheldon Adelson at the “Facing Tomorrow” Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski

American Jewish leaders are overwhelmingly refusing to make public comments about the corruption scandals surrounding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A round of phone calls by The Jerusalem Post this week, indeed, found only one senior official willing to talk, and he insisted on doing so anonymously.

A veteran Jewish establishment figure, he said American Jewry is embarrassed by the swirl of corruption around Ehud Olmert and other prominent Israeli public figures. American Jewry’s official silence on the issue, he went on, “comes from a combination of shame and a desire not to pile on [more trouble], which wouldn’t really serve a purpose.”

“But we’re all embarrassed for Israel,” he added. “It should be living up to an ideal.”

This official predicted that the silence would break if Olmert were still prime minister a few months from now. “Today, if AIPAC or JNF take a group to Israel, they will still seek a meeting with the prime minister, out of respect and to show their donors they have access.” But if he were still in office come November, the official said, some groups might change tack.

How did the gov’t survive the week?

March of Living unaware of suspicions Olmert may have double-billed them
With both New York businessman Morris Talansky (in the cash-stuffed envelopes affair) and Las Vegas gambling czar Sheldon Adelson (financing the Yisrael Hayom daily freesheet that has been notably critical of the prime minister) central to Olmert’s difficulties, meanwhile, new questions are being raised about the relationship between Jewish Americans and the Jewish state.

Israel has had close ties with the US Jewish community throughout its history, but the fact that some wealthy American donors have extended their influence to Jerusalem’s halls of power marks a crossing of what many Israelis see as a red line.

The relationship benefits both wealthy US Jews, who get to feel important by hobnobbing with powerful politicians, and Israeli politicians, who can expand their limited pool of donors in Israel and who enjoy getting the royal treatment on trips abroad, said Matti Golan, an Israeli author who has written about the ties between US Jews and Israel.

Israeli law forbids direct foreign donations to political parties and limits donations to individual politicians to about $10,000, depending on whether the money is meant for a local election, a national race or a party primary.

But other activities aren’t restricted. American donors can give money to political causes ranging from groups that promote settlements in the West Bank to Peace Now.

In the case of Adelson, he launched Yisrael Hayom, a newspaper that strongly criticizes Olmert and is distributed free to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The newspaper is part of what is widely seen as an attempt to replace Olmert with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli political insiders see the paper as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu. Olmert’s media adviser, Jacob Galanti, refuses to refer to it as a newspaper, recently terming it a “printed product.”

Adelson, a casino multibillionaire listed by Forbes last year as the third-richest man in America, has long had pull in Israel’s corridors of power. In May, when he helped fund the Facing Tomorrow conference convened by President Shimon Peres for the state’s 60th anniversary, he and his wife were seated alongside Olmert and other Israeli leaders.

Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most respected journalists, later referred in his column to the “gambling mogul from Las Vegas who bought my country’s birthday for $3 million.”

“Is the country worth so little?” Barnea asked.

Through a representative in Las Vegas, Adelson declined an interview request.

Adelson’s paper typically carries a front-page editorial blasting the prime minister and his government, with long investigative pieces inside on the misdeeds of Olmert and his cronies. Coverage of Netanyahu is generally benign.

Newspaper officials did not return messages seeking comment.

Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev, would not comment on Adelson’s activities, but noted that Olmert told The Atlantic monthly in May that there were US Jews “investing a lot of money trying to overthrow the government in Israel.”

Until his recent troubles, Olmert welcomed involvement by American Jews. In the years before he became prime minister, he was happy to accept donations from Americans, including Talansky.

Former justice minister Amnon Rubinstein said American Jews “should give money to charity, to universities, to hospitals, but not to political parties.”

But across the Israeli political spectrum, it has become a commonly accepted practice.

“Israel has been receiving donations from Diaspora Jews for 60 years,” said Eliad Shraga, who founded the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. “As long as it’s legal, I don’t see a problem.”

Yossi Beilin of the Meretz Party said the involvement of American Jews, even those with views different from his own, is preferable to apathy.

In the 1990s, Florida bingo magnate Irving Moskowitz set off a political storm by building Ma’aleh Hazeitim, a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem with the enthusiastic cooperation of Jerusalem’s mayor – Olmert.

Beilin was an unlikely defender. “I said I thought he was doing terrible damage, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that he cares. I prefer someone who cares about Israel to someone who doesn’t,” Beilin said.

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Barak: Someone is out to get me (Aug 21, 2008).
Barak: Media, politicians out to get me (Aug 22, 2008).

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Beinisch may set up new appeals court to relieve burden on Supreme Court
Aug 28, 2008 21:49 | Updated Aug 28, 2008 22:20 / By DAN IZENBERG
(…) Beinisch also pointed out that in accordance with a law approved last year, five district court presidents will have to step down this year and new ones chosen to replace them. She said that she and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann had appointed advisory committees to recommend candidates for each post.
She told the judges that the assertions that public confidence in the courts had plunged in recent years were exaggerated. She added there were external factors contributing to the increased mistrust.
Mentioning no names, she said that “another thing that has happened in the past two years is that never before has the establishment itself acted with so much force against the positive image of the judicial system, and also received support from the media. This [the media] is a source of great power and it is not easy to deal with it.”

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Government okays Supreme Court restrictions
Ex-chief justice signs petition slamming bid to limit court
Friedmann proposal generates debate
MKs decry ‘bad timing’ of Friedmann’s bill (Talkbacks are not allowed)

PM slams Barak for lack of coalition loyalty
Sep 7, 2008 23:43 / By HERB KEINON

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lashed out on Sunday in the cabinet at Defense Minister Ehud Barak, his senior coalition partner, accusing Barak of undercutting him with leaks to the press and of violating the coalition agreement in a serial fashion.

Olmert’s uncharacteristic outburst was triggered by Barak’s remark at the cabinet meeting that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann’s proposal to curtail the power of the Supreme Court violated Kadima’s coalition agreement with Labor.

Friedmann’s proposal would allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court found unconstitutional.

“With regard to honoring coalition agreements, I must say that it takes an enormous lack of self-awareness to come to your fellow with a complaint about violating agreements,” the prime minister said. “There is not one agreement you and your party have not violated.

“I am stunned that you come to talk about violating agreements, and I am not talking currently about personal matters; that is already a chutzpah of a different nature that I don’t want to talk about.”

It was Barak who essentially forced the prime minister out of office – after the Moshe Talansky “cash envelopes” affair was made public – by threatening to pull out of the coalition unless Kadima removed Olmert as its leader.

Olmert accused Barak of violating agreements to make things easier for himself. He said Barak wanted to avoid discussions some three month ago in the security cabinet about whether to accept a cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, because he thought he would be in the minority.

“Afterward you had the chutzpah to go to the press and say there could have been a calm three weeks earlier, but the prime minister prevented a debate in the security cabinet, at a time when you are one who tried to prevent a debate,” Olmert said.

A private conversation with Barak on this matter was documented, he added.

Olmert, stressing that none of this was “personal,” said he would not have brought this matter up at the cabinet meeting had Barak not said that the Friedmann proposal was a violation of the coalition agreement.

“Now you are preaching about honoring agreements,” Olmert said. “You are preaching morality? If you would have said that to me privately, I would have answered you privately, and it would have stayed between us, as usual, because I do not leak private conversations.”

Barak told the cabinet that “out of respect” for the forum, he would not respond.

Olmert said he respected Barak for his security work and for his personal bravery, adding that he thought Barak was a courageous prime minister. But, he said, “you have no limits.”

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