Middle Israel's Man of the Year 5766 is neither wise, thoughtful nor humane, and no saint, creator or visionary - though in his own eyes he is a prophet of sorts, or at least, so to speak, a crusader. In fact, the man who more than others shaped this sorry year's dominant events, or non-events, and inspired its ominous undercurrents is as mad, tragic and dejecting as this year has itself been.
Oh, how happily we would crown a humanistic author like the late Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, or a well-meaning statesman like Norway's Terje Larsen, or an accomplished athlete like patriotic pole-vaulter Alex Averbuch, or this or that inspiring inventor, entrepreneur, educator, sculptor, painter, poet, environmentalist or social activist. But this is neither a Nobel competition nor a beauty contest, and it does not, as such, necessarily involve one's esthetic, intellectual or humanistic endeavors.
In fact it is not even about effort; it is about impact, whether negative or positive, which means that ours is a search for someone whose actions this year affected our lives, emotions or thoughts more than anyone else. It is this definition which so often makes presidents, kings, prime ministers and other statesmen win the frequently misunderstood title of Man of the Year.
That, for instance, is how Time magazine, which introduced this journalistic exercise with its 1927 choice of aviator Charles Lindbergh, later named George Marshall, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush as man of the year twice each, and FDR even three times ('32, '34 and '41.) It is also why Man-of-the-Year choices are also sometimes bad guys, like Stalin ('39 and '42), Hitler ('38) and Ayatollah Khomeini ('79.) Who can deny that those people left an indelible imprint on history in general, and on those specific years in particular?
OBVIOUSLY, not all years warranted such somber choices. Some in fact won, justly, such unorthodox and happy choices as the under-twenty-fives ('66), the Middle Americans ('69), the American woman ('75), and even the altogether zany choice of the computer ('82).
In our case, as we set out to choose the person who more than any other impacted the condition of the Jewish state during 5766, we would have opted for a choice as positive, benign and optimistic as, say, Stef and Eitan Wertheimer, the father-and-son team who this year led $4 billion of Warren Buffet's fortunes here, the world-renowned investment guru's first sizable foreign investment; or someone as noble as Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, whose assistance to the ill has become the subject of legend; or the anonymous Chinese and Romanian laborers who dominate our scaffoldings; or the Internet's talkbackists; or Betar Jerusalem's smoke-grenade tossing fans.
Such peacetime choices will hopefully be relevant here in upcoming years, but ours has been a wartime year and, as such, begged inspirational fighters on the scale of Churchill ('40, '49), Martin Luther King ('63), Lech Walesa ('81) or John Paul II ('94), a breed of leaders Israel so patently failed to display in 5766.
Israel surely did have its fair share of fighters in 5766, albeit well under the leadership rung - from the family that first braved the rockets that destroyed its home, then lost no time rebuilding it, to the reservist foot soldier who on a moment's notice left his family and locked up his business in order to fight for his country while climbing, under fire, South Lebanon's steep slopes en route to the Litani River.
Still, we cannot choose "the Israeli soldier," or "the Israeli reservist," a la Time's "the American fighting-man" ('50) or the "American soldier" ('03) or even "the Hungarian freedom fighter" ('56), since our fighters, brave and dedicated though they have been, were not the dominant actors in our situation.
OURS HAS been a year dominated by a war that we neither sought nor shaped; both literally and figuratively, we felt we were mostly on its receiving end. And since there is no arguing that our recent Lebanese skirmish was our event of the year, it follows that our man of the year must come from the other side of the border, where those who provoked it lurk.
Based on this rationale, it is tempting to crown Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah with the title. He is, after all, the one who took the lead in teasing, disparaging, cursing, unnerving, harassing and eventually also bombarding us, and even became the hero of the rap tune "Yalla yalla ya Nasrallah" that thousands of Israeli kids now hum.
Yet Nasrallah is also ineligible for the title, since he is but his Iranian bosses' puppet. Moreover, had it not been for the Islamist Revolution that began with Iran's fall in 1979, there would probably be no Nasrallah and, in fact, no Hizbullah. And so we must seek the man of our year at the heart of that revolution's current phase, and that man sits not in Beirut, but in Teheran, and his name is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
CURIOUSLY enough, the 50-year-old former mayor of Teheran has only been in power since the eve of 5766, but he has already managed to become a major component of the international system. In a world dominated not only by America's money, diplomacy, and military, but also by its appreciation of freedom, tolerance and trade, Ahmadinejad has emerged as the most outspoken, and potent, challenger of the post-Cold War world order.
While philosophically his stance is neither novel nor unique - he was preceded by Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il, Bashar Assad and many others - politically his has so far been a dramatically effective, and foreboding, presidency. Whether or not they were actually ordered by Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah's brazen language and attacks this year were clearly inspired by his Iranian patron.
Moreover, the Iranian leader's blunt and repeated Holocaust denials, not to mention his unabashed quest to destroy the Jewish state, fueled the escalation that resulted in this summer's clash in Lebanon.
Geopolitically, Ahmadinejad now embodies the South's defiance of the North, and Islam's of the West. At a time when the Chinese, Russian, Indian and Latin American civilizations are fast closing industrial and social gaps with the West, Iran is trying to enshrine a reactionary social order that rests on the largely rural and undereducated classes. At the same time, he is a source of inspiration for the Islamist terrorists who find the rest of the world heretic, licentious, greedy - and fair game.
Back home, and in the best tradition of fascism, Ahmadinejad is intoxicating the people with a dish of collective power, through the bomb, while depriving them of the individual power that most people elsewhere enjoy, albeit to varying degrees.
In sum, in a matter of just a few brief months, the civil engineer who is believed to have been among the American hostage-takers in '79, has now established himself as the emblem of a far-flung effort to attack the Jews and cripple the West.
Hopefully this balance will change next year, but for now Ahmadinejad's effort has been much more resolute and fruitful than all the counter-efforts combined.
That is why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Middle Israel's Man of the Year 5766.