Open season on Olmert's competitors
By Gideon Samet
There's a new game in town. Some commentators don't want to see Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resign, but find it a bit unpleasant to say so outright. It's a bit like those scenes in Westerns when the gunman explains to the barman which bottle he wants to drink from - to illustrate, he shoots all the other bottles on the shelf. In the same manner, since the interim Winograd Committee report was published, we have heard Olmert's fans mumbling faintly, going through the motions, about how harsh the findings are, but the whisper is accompanied by a fanfare about the flaws of the candidates to succeed Olmert.It's true that the three main candidates - Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres - facilitated the work of the gunslingers. Benjamin Netanyahu opted for silence, so Olmert's supporters are making do with the familiar noise: "If so, you will end up with Bibi." Veteran columnist Nahum Barnea wrote a witty eulogy of Livni in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
"A regrettable event befell Tzipi Livni this week," he wrote. "When she took the stage, she tripped. Beneath the heavy makeup she was pale, frightened, tense to the point of cracking."What was Livni's mistake? Did she blunder in war? No, this "Joan of Arc," as the column dubbed her, sweated when she threatened Olmert.And the prime minister? As Barnea saw it, the clash with Livni gave Olmert an opportunity to demonstrate sangfroid in times of crisis. Ministers told the commentator that Olmert displayed "impressive self-control." And when he added, "You can make a mistake. You must not sweat," it was far from clear whether this was an insight about the fate of politicians or the writer's annex to the Winograd report.This selection of Barnea's quotations is not accidental. True, with regard to Olmert he is not only a newspaper, he is also an old friend. But as an Israel Prize laureate and an exemplary journalist, his analysis of the year's most important event justifies close examination. He also shot at Shimon Peres' bottle and mocked the man for being not only one of a kind but "one of all kinds," who was running to succeed a prime minister and a president without declaring his candidacy. "Uri Geller," he wrote contemptuously, "you have a successor." The attack succeeded.After Olmert managed this battle, too, with sangfroid and volunteered help on the way to the presidency, Peres this week disintegrated as a competitor for the premiership.And as for Netanyahu, Barnea related that he had barely stopped short of delegitimizing the Winograd Committee before the report's publication, and now, abracadabra, the report is a "first-class ticket" to the Prime Minister's Office. Other writers this week still marked Dan Halutz, the former chief of staff, as the perpetrator of the original sin, and dripped with venom in what read more like theater criticism at Barak's press conference. From Barak's fog of battle emerged a clear statement of Olmert's guilt, but the "yesterday in the theater" columns resonated with a complaint that the pretender to the leadership spoke to them too faintly.There is something to this viewpoint, provided it does not come from followers and confidants of the prime minister, whose leadership flaws in connection with the war are a lot more serious than a stutter. But behind the disqualification of all his competitors lie some very problematic assumptions.Along with the cases of veiled personal preferences, there is a broader explanation in the shooting range of why this list of who is unsuitable, and for what reasons, cropped up. At its basis is a fatal skepticism about the ability of Israeli democracy to bring forth anything better than a leader who failed (and was not elected to his post) and a ruling party that is not a party. It smacks of automatic, and depressive, non-confidence in any figures, some of them defeated in the past, in contrast to a politician whose failure cries out to the heavens but is of recent origin.From gunshot to gunshot the shelf is emptying. Soon enough, all that will be left is the empty bottle of Ehud Olmert.
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