‘Barak Was Begging Me, I Sent Him to Hell’: Former Prime Minister Olmert’s Prison Memoir

In former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s forthcoming autobiography, the former premier describes his relations with political allies and rivals, the 2006 Second Lebanon War and his 16 and a half months in prison, following his conviction on fraud and bribery charges. The book includes harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who served as defense minister under Olmert.

"I ask myself again and again if all of this was necessary," referring to his prison stint which ended last July, "whether it was unavoidable. Did I err so fundamentally at any stage in my public career that I invited this major downfall on myself from the most coveted position in public life, to become a prisoner?" Olmert asked in his book, according to excerpts published in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Thursday. The book was written while he was behind bars and is entitled "B’guf rishon," ("In the first person").

In one excerpt, Olmert, who was prime minister between 2006 and 2009, described his relationship with Barak, the Labor Party leader who preceded him as prime minister between 1999 and 2001. "In advance of the 2006 election, [Barak] asked to join Kadima. He approached [me], really begging that I include him on the [electoral] list, even in the 20th spot. It was clear that he was looking for a new base from which to try to take off. I considered his request, but it became clear to me that including him would hurt the new movement [Kadima] due to public opinion, which had not forgotten Barak’s amazing failure as prime minister."

Olmert also described an incident in which he said Barak came to Olmert’s office and called upon him to resign. "Every few minutes, the secretary came back and said that she had to bar Barak, who wanted to burst into my office, with her own body," Olmert wrote.

"At 11:45 A.M. I allowed him to come in. Barak strode slowly toward the desk and while walking said it would be a difficult conversation ‘because of [our] friendship.’ Before he sat down, I said: ‘Ehud, there’s no need for you to sit down. I know what you want to say.’ I read him the text of his announcement suggesting that I consider resigning. It had been broadcast on Army Radio a few minutes earlier. ‘There’s no need for us to talk,’ I said, and I showed him to the door. ‘Say what you want. From my standpoint, you can go to hell.’"

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On Thursday morning, Barak responded to the excerpts published in Yedioth, saying: "Olmert is a known liar with certification from the court. I am proud that I asked him to resign. His version of the incident is false and baseless."

Referring to Olmert’s bureau chief, Shula Zaken, who served a jail term on corruption charges and as part of a plea agreement, gave the prosecution recordings that led to one of the police investigation into Olmert. Barak, said: "[Olmert’s] claim that I sought to unite Labor and Kadima is false just as his claim that he never asked for help from Shula Zaken, but what’s gotten over Yedioth?" Barak took the newspaper to task for providing a platform to Olmert, whom he referred to as "a known swindler."

In the book, Olmert also describes his life in Wing 10 at Maasiyahu prison, where Danny Dankner, the former chairman of Israel’s biggest bank, Bank Hapoalim, was also serving time. "Before going to sleep, sometime around 1 in the morning, Danny Dankner would give everyone a piece of bittersweet chocolate, and each of us would go to bed," Olmert wrote.

"We had rotating duties. Danny was the boss. Early on, he was appointed head of the wing. He would deny such status, but in practice, his authority was accepted with love and respect. When there were chores, I was there. I didn’t want to be an exception. When we needed to wash the hallway and it was my turn, I would do it. When we needed to chop vegetables for a chopped salad, I would do the best I could, like everyone else, without favors or concessions."

In the book, Olmert takes Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, to task for their lifestyle. "The waste, the hedonism, the disregard for minimal standards of modesty and restraint cry to the heavens. And all of this is nothing compared to the disclosures over the gifts that the couple has received, [or] more accurately, over the gifts that the couple demanded of the rich people of the world."

Referring to the incumbent prime minister by his nickname, Olmert writes: "Bibi is the model. All of his competitors are like him, talking nearly as he does, and soon they will also look like him…" Regarding Sara Netanyahu, he wrote: "I prefer not to disclose embarrassing things. It would suffice for me to say that it is the good fortune of Jerusalem’s children that Mrs. Netanyahu almost never shows up at work." Sara Netanyahu is a psychologist working at he Jerusalem Municipality. Olmert’s had served as the Jerusalem mayor between 1993 and 2003.

Describing his relationship with Shula Zaken, Olmert wrote that she "did not sacrifice her life for me," adding that it was thanks to Olmert that she went from being "a junior typist" at a law firm to assistant to the prime minister. "The idea that I needed to buy her silence with money is nonsense. I never approached her to ask that she not testify, never asked for her to defend me, never needed her defense and in fact also didn’t receive it."

In a section of the book devoted to the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Olmert, who has been blamed for some of Israel’s failings in the war, wrote: "There were more than a few failures in the Second Lebanon War. In my Knesset speech on August 14, [2006], the day on which the cease-fire took effect, I stood up and said: ‘All of the failures are on me.’"

But Olmert added: "Immediately following the end of the war, the conspiratorial activity of Netanyahu and his colleagues began. Bibi, with the help of Naftali Bennett [who is now education minister] and other right-wing figures, with the help of generous funding from abroad, turned the war into a tool in their attempt to bring down the government," he wrote. "Three couples of bereaved parents, members of the Likud central committee, demonstrated against me after the war. Bibi had also incited them and spurred them on."