Sisterhood Blog

Behind Every Scandalized Prime Minister...

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

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It is said that behind every powerful man is a strong woman. In the professional realm, it is conceivable that a woman who begins as a personal secretary could evolve into an “office manager” — and beyond. But whatever her title, her real value to her employer is her steadfast loyalty, her willingness to keep any secrets or flaws under wraps and to act as a gatekeeper and caretaker to the man. She agressively protects and promotes him with unshaking loyalty. For Shula Zaken, that man was Ehud Olmert. Zaken was hired at Olmert’s Jerusalem law office job when she was just 17. And she remained by his side on his professional climb as Knesset member, Jerusalem mayor, Industry Minister and up to the lofty perch of the Prime Minister’s office.

But in recent years, the trip has been downwards into the depths of scandal, and this week, landed the 53-year-old wife and mother in a prison cell shortly after she stepped off an airplane, having come from her Los Angeles vacation.

As the stomach-turning details of the Holyland bribery scandal unfold, Zaken has been cast by the media as Olmert’s coiffed and manicured Dragon Lady accomplice, sharing in his ill-gotten spoils of corruption. Now, she sits in a cell the Neve Tirzah women’s prison.

All of Israel is watching as police confront her with the evidence against her and, perhaps, offer her a deal in exchange for testimony against Olmert. She faces charges of serving as a pipeline for bribes from businessmen to Olmert in exchange for political favors, taking some of the bribe money for herself and money laundering. She is also accused of interfering with police investigations against Olmert and herself by refusing to answer questions. Thus far, her loyalty has appeared unshakable. During earlier legal proceedings, reporters observed:

Olmert and Zaken have shared the defendants’ bench at the Jerusalem District Court in recent months. They hardly talk to each other during the hearings, but their close relationship is evident. A few weeks ago, when Olmert’s eyes almost closed during the tedious debates, Zaken made sure he got a cup of coffee.

She can keep him caffeinated, but can she — and will she — keep him out of jail? Zaken appears to be in a no-win situation as far as public opinion is concerned. If she becomes a state witness and testifies against him, she will be viewed as a traitor. If she refuses, she will be viewed as having taken the fall gal for the real villain — and a woman who has proved that there is such a thing as being too loyal.


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