Ehud Olmert (אהוד אולמרט, , born September 30, 1945) is the 12th and current Prime Minister of Israel and the former leader of Kadima. Olmert began exercising the powers of the office as Caretaker for the Prime Minister on 4 January 2006, after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke. Kadima won the March 2006 elections, enabling Olmert to continue as Caretaker Prime Minister. On 14 April 2006, the length of Sharon's legal incapacitation reached 100 days, allowing Olmert to legally become Acting (transitional) Prime Minister, and Israel's official head of government. Olmert then formed a new Government on 4 May 2006, the 31st government, making him Israel's official Prime Minister.
On 30 July 2008, Olmert announced that he would not participate in his party's September 2008 leadership elections and would resign from his position as Prime Minister immediately thereafter. Four days after Tzipi Livni won the ballot, Olmert formally resigned from office in a letter submitted to President Shimon Peres, who asked Livni to form a new government. If she succeeds in doing so, Livni will succeed Olmert as Prime Minister. In the meantime, Olmert continues as interim Prime Minister.
According to Olmert, his parents, Bellah 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. Olmert's childhood included membership in the Beitar Youth Organization and dealing with the fact that his parents were often blacklisted and discriminated against 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.
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, 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.
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, Labour. On 16 January 2006 Olmert was elected caretaker chairman of Kadima, and Kadima's candidate for Caretaker 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 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 Acting (transional) Prime Minister (he would not become full 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 US 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 Israel-Lebanon conflict, 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.
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.
On 2 May 2007, the Winograd Commission accused Olmert of failing to properly manage the Second Lebanese War, which prompted a mass rally of over 100,000 people calling for his resignation.
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.
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.
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 correct. 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 remains Prime Minister until she has formed a government. If Livni cannot form a government, Olmert will remain in power until following an election.
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 football team. This team is often associated with the Israeli right. Ehud'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, considered 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, Ehud 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 Chinese", he recalled.
In October 2007, Olmert announced that he had prostate cancer. His doctors declared it to be a minor risk.