Olmert, Ehud

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OLMERT, EHUD (1945– ), Israeli politician, mayor of Jerusalem 1993–2003, member of the Eighth to Fourteenth and Sixteenth Knessets, and prime miniter from 2006. Olmert was born in Nahalat Jabotinsky. His father, Mordechai Olmert, was a Knesset Member on behalf of the Ḥerut Movement in the Third and Fourth Knessets. Ehud Olmert went to school in Binyaminah. He served in the Golani brigade and was a military correspondent for the army weekly Ba-Maḥaneh. He studied psychology, philosophy, and law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and as a student became active in the Ḥerut Movement. At the eighth Ḥerut conference in 1966, he was part of the opposition to Menaḥem *Begin. In 1967 he left the Ḥerut Movement and joined the Merkaz ha-Ḥofshi Party founded by Shmuel *Tamir. He was first elected to the Eighth Knesset in 1973 on the Likud list, of which the Merkaz ha-Ḥofshi was one of the founders. In that Knesset he was especially active on the issue of organized crime in Israel. In 1975 he broke away from the Merkaz ha-Ḥofshi faction within the Likud together with Eliezer *Shostak, and formed Ha-Merkaz ha-Aẓma'i. The following year Ha-Merkaz ha-Aẓma'i joined the La-Am block, and in 1985 La-Am joined the Ḥerut Movement.

Simultaneously with his service in the Knesset, Olmert continued to work as a lawyer, representing inter alia clients against state authorities. In 1988 he was appointed minister without portfolio by Yitzhak *Shamir, and after the Labor Party left the National Unity government, he was appointed minister of health. In this capacity he appointed the Netanyahu Commission of Inquiry, to investigate the situation in the health system, and planned to present a national health insurance bill. After the Likud had lost the elections to the Thirteenth Knesset, he ran for election as mayor of *Jerusalem, defeating Jerusalem's long-time mayor Teddy *Kollek with the support of the *ḥaredi vote. He continued to serve simultaneously as a Knesset member, but resigned from the Knesset in November 1998 after the law had been amended, making it impossible to serve both as a Knesset member and mayor. In the course of the Fourteenth Knesset Attorney General Michael Ben-Ya'ir announced that charges would be brought against Olmert regarding alleged felonies that he had committed while he had served as treasurer of the Likud before the elections to the Twelfth Knesset. His immunity was lifted in October 1996 at his own request, and in September 1997 he was exonerated by the Tel Aviv district court from all the charges against him. As mayor, Olmert supported projects for Jewish construction in various parts of East Jerusalem, in the face of mounting international criticism. He also favored expanding the boundaries of Jerusalem westwards in order to ensure the maintenance of the demographic balance in favor of the Jews in the city, despite the departure of many secular Jews, and the high birthrate among the Arabs.

Olmert did not run in the elections to the Fifteenth Knesset, but decided to run again in the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset, after resigning his post as mayor of Jerusalem. As one of the loyal supporters of Ariel *Sharon, in the government formed by him after the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset, Olmert was appointed vice prime minister and minister of industry and trade, to which was added the labor portfolio, responsibility for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and additional functions. In this government, until the National Religious Party, the National Union, and Shinui left it, Olmert was one of the more moderate ministers, strongly supporting Sharon's Gaza Strip disengagement plan. Almost single-handedly he campaigned for the plan when it was brought to a vote in the Likud Conference, and he continued to support it after the plan was defeated there. Following the resignation of Binyamin *Netanyahu in August 2005, Olmert was appointed acting minister of finance; in November 2005 he became minister of finance.

In January 2006, after Prime Minister Sharon was disabled by a stroke, Olmert became acting prime minister. He headed the Kadimah list, the party newly formed by Sharon, in the March 2006 elections. In the elections themselves the Kadimah list won 29 seats, making it the largest party in the Knesset. Olmert was able to form a government along with the Labor Party, Shas, and the newly formed Pensioners list. Olmert vowed to fix Israel's final borders during his term of office, either through negotiations with the Palestinians or unilaterally.

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

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