Israel's Defense Minister Calls On Olmert to Step Down to Battle Corruption Allegations
JERUSALEM — Israel's powerful defense minister on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down amid a burgeoning corruption scandal and said he would bring down the government if the Israeli leader does not comply.
The ultimatum was the latest in a string of career-threatening challenges that Olmert has weathered during his two years in office. But the threat from Labor Party leader Ehud Barak could well be the one that brings him down.
If Barak carries out his promise to withdraw from Olmert's fragile coalition, new elections could usher in a government opposed to current peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria.
Israeli prosecutors have been investigating tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that Olmert collected from American donors in the years before he became prime minister in 2006.
Calls for Olmert's resignation gained volume this week after a key witness, U.S. businessman Morris Talansky, testified he had given $150,000 of his own money to Olmert over the years, before he was permier. Talansky said the payments, often in cash-stuffed envelopes, helped fund Olmert's expensive lifestyle that included luxury hotels and first-class travel.