David Ben-Gurion once reportedly quipped: “Anyone who believes you can’t change
history has never tried to write his memoirs.” The statement came to mind amid
the furor raised by the part-published autobiography of Ehud Olmert, although
there the comparison between Olmert and the country’s first prime minister
Ben-Gurion answers the description of statesman – or at
least meets the criteria of a great leader. Statesman is, perhaps, too grand a
term for the politician whose election slogan branded him “the old man”
(hazaken) and who retired to a humble home in the desert he wanted to help
Olmert, on the other hand, is still bogged down in legal
proceedings regarding his far-from-humble abodes in Jerusalem and Tel
travel expenses and – from his period as Jerusalem mayor – the Holyland
which casts a shadow over him as ugly as the building complex itself.
might be forgiven for thinking it was his handling of two wars – the
Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead – that brought him down after just
as premier, but it wasn’t. It was the alleged corruption
Although since resigning in 2008 he has managed to shake off a
few of the cases, others seem to be sprouting up like so many unlicensed
And now it seems that legal battles and wars in the
North and South were not the only fronts on which he was fighting. The
is what the press has been quick to dub the “Battle of the Ehuds” –
minister Ehud Olmert versus former prime minister and current defense
Justice Eliahu Winograd had not even finished writing the
report on Lebanon II before the politicians began to write their version
story, enabling Labor leader Barak to join the coalition. But this, it
did not end the power struggle between the two which last week so
became a war of words.
The two Ehuds might have been on the same page, it
turns out, but they weren’t always reading the same book.
Initiative conference in Tel Aviv on September 19 served, in effect, as
first stop on the book tour for Olmert’s as yet unfinished memoirs. How
First damn, then publish.
One of the main accusations that Olmert hurled
at Barak was that he fought (unsuccessfully) to get into Kadima. Even
damning was Olmert’s statement: “I can’t write about security issues and
who initiated daring steps, who tried to prevent the government from
them by undermining [the efforts].
Every word is documented and
authorized.” He as good as spelled out the accusation that Barak tried
prevent him from carrying out what could be his major achievement, the
Israeli attack in 2007 on a Syrian nuclear installation.
rejected the charges as “pathetic and unworthy of a response.”
might have the last laugh: As defense minister, Barak has authority over
military censor’s office, which could continue to prevent credit for the
presumed operation from appearing in Olmert’s memoirs.
Olmert’s book is
not a open-and-shut affair. It’s an ongoing work. Whether it counts as
science or fiction depends on who’s reading it. News of its imminent
some of its contents in Yediot Aharonot over Yom Kippur seemed so
was probably part of the spin (and aimed at the public which had plenty
reading time on the day when even the most secular don’t drive).
was a time, of course, when politicians were judged by their deeds
their PR. On the other hand, it was perhaps a sign of a lack of public
The problem of bribes, cronyism and possibly worse existed, of
course, in Ben-Gurion’s day, when the ruling Mapai party was famous for
of “Vitamin P” – the euphemism for proteksia or patronage. Olmert,
worked as a very young Knesset member, just 28, on a social justice and
Still, read into it what you will, it seems
strange that the left-leaning Geneva Initiative invited Olmert as its
speaker – not exactly the person most in keeping with the image of
respectability it has tried to convey.
And Olmert has not previously been
seen as one of the initiative’s supporters.
Nonetheless, his revelation
that “the US would have been willing to accept 100,000 refugees,”
previously unknown detail of his negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, and
description of his offer as prime minister to the Palestinians, is
further left than his Revisionist parents could have imagined
The details are also very much in keeping with the image he is
obviously trying to present as a major player on the world stage, while
attack on Barak and barbs at Binyamin Netanyahu suggest he is preparing
As far as Olmert is concerned, the book – not the personality –
is intended to sit on the shelf.
Perhaps it’s all part of the hype being
offered by PR consultants.
But it makes me want to declare “no more,” as
Olmert did in the early days of the Second Lebanon War against
People are tired of war. They are also tired of spin.
Fortunately, the public is not so tired that it can’t tell the
At one point Olmert seemed to enjoy what is known in a
uniquely Hebrew analogy as “etrog status,” the protected condition of
valued of the Four Species used during Succot. He still needs a thick
the battle of the Ehuds suggests, the fight for political survival
It would take a creative writer indeed to turn Olmert into a
Ben-Gurion in his memoirs. But he is part of a trend. Tony Blair’s A
after all, has only just set out on its travels, similarly upsetting
political partners while presenting the ever-affable former British PM
global ambassador of goodwill. And it has been suggested that Blair was
following the Bill Clinton model. No longer do leaders retire and
their memoirs, it seems. They write their memoirs as part of a greater
plan, on their way to better things.
Olmert’s is likely to be a political
autobiography which screams – like the headlines it has already
“I’m still relevant.” It is aimed at allowing the writer to turn over a
and start a new chapter. It’s not an epilogue that is planned when
legal battles are over. It’s a sequel.
The writer is the editor of The
International Jerusalem Post.email@example.com