Don’t listen to baseless rumors, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at a party Wednesday night celebrating the first anniversary of his release from prison. The fact that he wore tefillin “occasionally” while in prison did not mean that he was wearing them now, or that he had become observant.
In an interview with Channel One reporter Menachem Horowitz, Olmert said on the sidelines of the event in Eilat that “I heard that people now consider me to be chareidi because I put on tefillin. Not true,” he told Horowitz. The entire “rumor,” he said, was based on the fact that he occasionally would help out to make a minyan in prison when one was lacking, On those occasions, he would put on tefillin and daven with the congregation. “I wanted to help them out, so I respected the tradition” and put on the tefillin, he said.
As to his religious viewpoint, Olmert said “I am a secular person, through and through. I never hid this, including when I was mayor of Yerushalayim when I had a coalition with chareidim. With that, in order to ensure they would work with us, I made sure there was a minyan [to enable people to daven Minchah in City Hall] because this was important for them.”
Olmert entered prison in February 2016 after being convicted for his role in the Holyland construction project scandal, in which the court said that he had illegally approved the apartment project in the Malha neighborhood of Yerushalayim in exchange for favors. A six-month separate sentence for obstruction of justice was served concurrently. A plea for clemency was turned down by President Reuven Rivlin earlier this year.
Olmert was released at the end of June in 2017, after serving 18 months of a 27-month sentence. He was released over his good behavior, and out of concern for his health, according to the decision of the parole board.