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25 Feb, 2010 03:03

Ehud Olmert – liar or worse?

An Israeli court has opened the trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is accused of fraud and corruption. However, Palestinians claim he is responsible for more serious crimes - atrocities in Gaza.

There is anger on the streets of Israel against one of the most unpopular prime ministers in the country’s history. Protestors accuse Ehud Olmert of being a war criminal for having started two military conflicts during his three years in office.

Footage provided by www.tv.social.org.il

But the blame is not directed entirely at him. ”The Israeli media failed in this war. They told a story about a different war,” said Gideon Levi, editor of Israeli Haaretz newspaper.

Demonstrations across Israeli cities were never shown on local television. Israeli media chose to downplay Olmert, the possible war criminal, in favor of Olmert, the liar and the cheat.

Pick up any newspaper in Israel and Olmert’s picture is on the front page. The reports focus on the charges against him – corruption, fraud, breach of trust, and concealing fraudulent earnings. If he is found guilty, Olmert could face time behind bars.

However, that will not satisfy Palestinians in Gaza. They want him convicted of war crimes for his part in the 2008 conflict.

Palestinian journalist Sami Abu Salem believes Olmert approved the deliberate attack of hospitals and the use of illegal weapons against civilian targets. He is determined to keep these allegations in the headlines.

“Israel is exaggerating the story about Olmert’s corruption charges and also about other high-ranking people. The list of corrupt officials in Israel is big,” he told RT.

“There is so much talk about court hearings, about legal infringements and immoral actions. But what about the victims, the children who were murdered here in Gaza? What is more important – an individual or corruption and money?” he added.

However, Israeli journalists are penning a different story. Like many of their readers, they do not consider Olmert a war criminal and say his story is more about a powerful man's fall from grace.

“In many cases the media smells blood and they react to that. There are journalists that liked him a lot. Some of them turned against him as the stories about him became more prominent,” said Dan Izenberg, legal affairs correspondent from the Jerusalem Post.

“It does not happen to everyone. It depends on how popular the politician is, but it has happened to other people too,” he added.

Olmert heads a long list of Israeli public servants who have appeared in court. His former finance minister was sentenced to five years’ prison for embezzlement; former president Moshe Katzav is being tried for rape.

The current Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is being investigated for money laundering and bribery.

“Unfortunately, in Israel, like in many other states, the trial does not only stay in the courtroom. There are also vested interests people have,” Ehud Olmert’s media advisor commented.

”Politically, many people wanted Olmert removed from office. The prosecution will not allow itself to lose after removing a prime minister from office and that is why they will do everything they can to convict him of at least something,” he added.

Peace activist Inna Michaeli says the Israeli public is taught what to think by a media that is as brainwashed as it is.

“In every society you have a range of legitimate positions to hold. Here, during the war, not agreeing with your government, which is a basic democratic right, not to say the basic democratic duty when you disagree to express it, here it was considered treason,” she said.

Olmert is the first Israeli Prime Minister ever to go on trial. Whatever the outcome and how he will be remembered by history, he is already the most-investigated premier in Israel's history.