There is an old Yiddish saying that a fish stinks from the head. This certainly applies to our nation, whose leaders are unfit to lead.
It is somewhat bizarre to hear our prime minister employing his renowned talent for spin and shamelessly portraying the Winograd Commission report as having “cleared my name” and “lifted the moral stigma from me.” Whereas the report did exonerate Ehud Olmert from being motivated by personal considerations in launching the controversial ground operation at the end of the war which resulted in the deaths of 33 soldiers, surely that was never really the central issue. It may in fact have been a red herring.
The devastating report, compiled by a committee personally hand-picked by the prime minister, reiterated its initial condemnation of Olmert’s flawed judgment throughout the course of the war, which resulted in a “major and grave missed opportunity” to inflict a major defeat on Hizbullah and restore Israel’s shattered deterrence.
Winograd went out of its way to stress that “our refraining from pinpointing individual responsibility should not be interpreted as concluding that such responsibility does not exist.” The report, which employed the term “failures” 190 times and “flaws” 213 times, stated unequivocally that the “same serious failings and flaws” in “decision-making procedures” and in “strategic thinking and planning” identified in the preliminary findings prevailed throughout the entire 34 days of the war.
Never has an independent Israeli tribunal been so explicit in blaming our political leaders for failure in a war. For Olmert, who had arrogantly vowed that he would retain office irrespective of the findings of the report, to cynically claim that such findings exonerated and even vindicated him makes a mockery of public accountability and severely compromises the nation’s democratic ethos. It will only intensify the widespread rage shared by Israelis across the entire political spectrum.
More frightening is that during the 18 months since the conflict, Olmert has failed to internalize the lessons of the war. Today, he continues implementing policies which have never formally been adopted, or even been adequately debated, in the Knesset. We are once more revisiting the discredited path of appeasement, making concessions to a duplicitous, make-believe partner who is incapable of reciprocating, and, in so doing, emboldening terrorists.
Olmert’s concessions to Mahmoud Abbas include yielding our hitherto absolute insistence on retaining defensible borders; relinquishing previously non-negotiable security requirements which have already cost Israeli lives; floating offers to divide Jerusalem and handing over jurisdiction of the Temple Mount to the Palestinians; releasing hundreds of terrorists and undertaking to free more; and providing weapons to the Palestinians which, in the future, will almost certainly be employed against us.
What has Mahmoud Abbas provided in return? Precisely nothing! But our impotent peace partner did reiterate that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state; and describe as non-negotiable the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees, which would result in the demise of the Jewish state. The security forces on his payroll continue to kill Jews, and incitement in the areas under his jurisdiction, far from abating, is in fact at an all-time high, with kindergartens continuing to mold children to aspire to martyrdom by killing Jews.
And when Israel weighs a possible invasion of Gaza to stop Hamas launching missiles against Sderot, Abbas says he would side with Hamas.
Finally, Israeli citizens in Sderot and neighboring areas have been transformed into refugees in their own land. As the quality of the missiles and their range improves, greater areas of Israel will come within reach of missile attack. Having for years acclimatized the international community to missiles being launched against Israeli civilians, we are now expected to continue servicing Palestinians in these areas with electricity and fuel on “humanitarian grounds” – something no normal nation in the world would conceivably tolerate.
Worse, while Hamas attempts to replicate a Hizbullah infrastructure in Gaza, the Olmert government, which experienced the bitter consequences of having failed to take preemptive action in Lebanon, again remains passive, waiting for empowered Hamas terrorists to attack us at a time of their choosing.
Monday’s attack on Dimona may well be the first sign of a Hamas emboldened by its latest achievements in Rafah.
Alternatively, the Israeli government may be waiting for the inevitable disaster when, God forbid, a missile ultimately falls on a kindergarten, hospital or key infrastructure, forcing it to respond.
If Olmert remains in office, it will virtually ensure that our relationship with our neighbors and the world will continue sinking into a bottomless pit. During these stormy times when we truly face existential threats, we cannot afford to be like a ship without a rudder. Should our sons be obliged to fight in a future war, we should more than ever hearken to the Winograd Report, which clearly says we require a prime minister whom the people can trust. We also need a leader who the nation is confident will be capable of negotiating peace without constantly being diverted by matters relating to his political survival.
Leadership must relate to our neglected social and economic framework, which also urgently requires attention. There is a need to reform the educational system, whose standards have eroded to an appalling level. The absence of a core curriculum to unify the secular, national-religious, haredi and Arab educational streams is encouraging tribalization where there should be unity.
The erosion of dialogue and mutual accommodation between religious and secular encourages growing polarization and extremism. An overhaul of the health, welfare, water and conservation systems is long overdue. There is a real need for long-term planning and reform. We cannot expect any of these crucial issues to be dealt with adequately by this government.
Under Olmert, Israel will remain a nation under siege, led by a failed leader who has not absorbed the bitter lessons of past mistakes. The burden of responsibility for change rests with those Knesset members who have hitherto failed to act in the national interest because of their selfish personal agenda.
The ultimate cynicism is exemplified by Ehud Barak, who shamelessly breached his pledge to resign after the release of the report; and by the Shas Party, which betrays their hawkish supporters for short-term lucre; and by those sanctimonious Kadima members who are waiting to see which way the wind will blow.
The other factor operating in Olmert’s favor is the obsessive hatred of, and trepidation in the face of his most likely successor, Binyamin Netanyahu, as reflected in the Hebrew media.
We are blessed with an incredibly steadfast and creative people. Now, before it is too late, we Israeli citizens must exert people power, pressuring those failed and dysfunctional Knesset members who are more concerned about retaining their positions than promoting the interests of the nation to bring this government down.
It was another failed leader, minister of defense Ehud Barak, who not so long ago said: “We need a new leader we can trust, and who will place the interests of the nation ahead of his political survival and personal agenda.”
Yet, paradoxically, the politician now most responsible for keeping Olmert in office is none other than Ehud Barak himself.
The writer is a veteran international Jewish leader.
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