The candidate for prime minister who should be most worried by interim Science and Technology Minister Matan Vilna'i's decision to quit the Labor leadership race is not Histadrut Labor Federation chief Amir Peretz. It's Likud rebel leader Uzi Landau.
Vilna'i and Landau have reputations for being their party's "Mr. Clean." They are known for their honesty, their candor and for not playing political tricks. And that's why it is likely that neither one of them will ever be elected prime minister.
A recent Dahaf Institute poll found that, in Israel, honesty and political success run in inverse proportions. The more clean a politician is perceived, the less support he has, and conversely the more corrupt he is the more likely he is to win.
The poll found that the Israeli public considered Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Histadrut Labor Federation chief Amir Peretz among the most corrupt politicians and Vilna'i and Landau among the cleanest. The same poll found that people would be least likely to vote for Vilna'i and Landau.
The only exception to the rule was former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is perceived as corrupt and has little support in his party and the general public.
"Many people have told me that I should try to attract attention by acting more like Barak or Bibi," Vilna'i said at a recent press conference. "But I want to be different. I am a different kind of leader, and I think that's what people want."
Apparently not. Israelis want a leader who makes them feel safe and secure, who projects self-confidence, and who at least entertains them, if not inspires.
Vilna'i and Landau both suffer from deficiencies of charisma. They both aren't known for having a sense of humor, and you probably wouldn't want to hang out with either of them for fun. Both of them probably studied too hard in school - Vilna'i at Tel Aviv University and Harvard, Landau at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Peretz used his charisma - and perhaps a few threats in the right places - to sign up thousands of members to the Labor Party and make him a serious contender for its leadership. Vilna'i played by the rules and gradually fell from a solid second place to a distant third.
Landau lost to Sharon in several fights over disengagement in the government, the Knesset and the Likud central committee because he was no match for Sharon's strategizing. Sharon used every trick in the book, from firing ministers to rewarding turncoats and using Arabs MKs to back key legislation. He disregarded the results of the Likud's referendum, and even might have purposely engineered a microphone glitch to extend the tenure of his government.
It is no wonder that Sharon is still prime minister, Landau is a regular MK, and Vilna'i depends on the mercy of the Likud rebels to allow him to become science minister on Monday.
The message from the rise and fall of Matan Vilna'i is that, at least in Israel, nice guys finish last.
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