Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – Ariel Sharon’s closest ally and political successor – is favored to win the March 28 elections. His election will put a spotlight on his unusual marriage and family, where he has long been a minority of one for his conservative political views. Aliza, his wife of 35 years, is an artist and social activist on the progressive left in Israel. They have four children who staunchly share her views; and while they all say they deeply love and respect their father, they have rarely voted for him. It’s well-known among Israelis that this prominent family is tempestuously divided along ideological lines. Their son Shaul Olmert, who served in the Israeli army, signed a controversial petition calling on members of the Israel Defense Forces to refuse to serve in the territories, an action that caused a media feeding frenzy.
A month after Sharon suffered a devastating stroke, Ehud Olmert, his wife Aliza and son Shaul all sat down for wide-ranging and intimate interviews with veteran Frontline producer Ofra Bikel. In her exchanges with all three, Bikel reveals the complex dynamic of this family, which in many ways represents the emotional and political landscape of Israel itself.
Olmert, a former hard-liner from a conservative political background, has moved sharply to the center in recent years. In fact, he is acknowledged as the one who convinced Sharon to withdraw from Gaza and eventually much of the West Bank. Olmert credits his family for this gradual shift in his thinking. “Certainly the family influenced me,” he says. “I have been married to Aliza for more than 35 years. So, when I finally made this statement, which really changed Israeli politics and maybe the Israeli agenda forever, my wife Aliza said, ‘Thirty-five years of hard work finally bears fruit.’”
Now the family says they will probably reach a consensus for the first time and vote for their father.