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Monday, November 19, 2007

Why we hate Olmert

Ehud Asheri (see Olmert Hate) writes:
Anyone who has ever tried to put in a good word for Ehud Olmert knows the drill. In the best case, he receives questioning glances, as if his mind had slipped a gear. In the less-best case, he is considered an incorrigible coddler protecting a deceitful prime minister for political reasons. In the worst case he is branded a garden-variety sycophant, bought by the regime for some unknown favor. In all these cases one gets the sense that to support the prime minister, however insubstantially, is to commit an act of moral turpitude.
The polls confirm this perception. Even after the operation in Syria (which was supposed to rehabilitate his military image) and the disclosure of his cancer (which was supposed to provoke empathy), more than 75 percent of Israelis are dissatisfied with Olmert and think he is unfit to be prime minister. Israel has never had a prime minister who is less well-liked and whose rivals march well ahead of him in the popularity parade.
To find the deepest reason for the Olmert hatred, one must search the depths of mass psychology, in the general sense of the crumbling of the state's authority, the lack of vision - all the factors that make up a leadership crisis. Israelis may be content on the personal level, but they are depressed on the national one. They have no direction. Author David Grossman put it well: "The people leading Israel today are unable to connect Israelis to their identity .... [to] give some meaning to the exhausting and despairing struggle for existence."
Olmert is a victim of this dynamic, but he also contributes to it through his personal and political behavior. As a leader, he personifies the Israeli identity crisis - he lacks a clear vision, he is not built for greatness, he conducts small, shady business deals and is beholden to the techniques of survival. It isn't as if there are other great lights at hand, but when we look at him we see ourselves instead of who we could be. That's why we don't like him.
I confess that I believe it too. I don't hate Olmert. I despise him because he is a shopkeeper - a beancounter. He would not call up the reserves in the Lebanon war because he wanted to save money. He is the Jew who, when confronted by a bandit who says "Your money or your life," says "Take my life, I need my money for my old age."
But I know that a lot of people hate Olmert because he threatens their precious settlements. If they had a beancounter and a crook in charge who liked settlements, they would love him. They had no problem with Sharon's "moral turpitude" as long as he was for Greater Israel. They only discovered that it is not nice to take bribes when Sharon announced the disengagement plan.
And I also remember the other Prime Ministers who were hated. Remember when Rabin had an approval rating of about 25%? And there was one other guy who was a shopkeeper, a coward, hesitant and so on. He had no charisma. He stuttered. He made deals.  Remember him? He was Levy Eshkol, whose quiet leadership made possible a military victory that changed the history of the Middle East.
Olmert unfortunately doesn't seem to be a Levy Eshkol, does he? But having a beancounter PM is not the worst possible thing. The worst case scenario is that we will have a beancounter as PM and LIKE him.
Ami Isseroff  

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