Analysis: A passing shadow over the 60th anniversary

The cloud hovering over the PM on Yom Ha'atzmaut was not the ambiance Peres was looking for.

israel 60 224 promo (photo credit: )
israel 60 224 promo
(photo credit: )
Starting the state's 60th anniversary celebrations on Wednesday night with a huge cloud hovering over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not exactly the ambience that Ruhama Avraham-Balila, the government minister in charge of planning the country's Yom Ha'atzmaut festivities, had in mind. Nor, for that matter, was this the story that President Shimon Peres wanted to see dominate the papers during a week when a bevy of world leaders would be arriving to salute the country's independence. Sure, there were concerns - and still are - that terrorists would try to spoil our 60th birthday party with some high-profile attack. But who thought that the communal mood at the Independence Day barbecue would be dampened not by some external act of violence, but rather by internal rumors and half-rumors of allegations or possible allegations of serious malfeasance by the prime minister? There will be those out there, both around the world and in Israel, who will revel in the whole episode and point to it as further proof that this country - which for various reasons they do not wish well or believe has a right to exist - is disintegrating from within. There will be sanctimonious clucks of the tongue from certain Arab quarters - quarters where corruption is much more rife than it is here - which will use this new affair as proof that this country is on the road to collapse. There will be raised eyebrows by Jewish brethren abroad who will use this to justify their failure to join us in our project at Jewish self-rule by asking themselves, "Who would want to live in such a corrupt land?" There will be sighs of "gevalt" from certain haredi quarters - those who don't recognize the state, or don't like it - who will say this is what you get when you put the godless in charge of the Land. There will be those on the far Right who will draw a straight line from this affair to Gush Katif, arguing that the moral obtuseness that led to the dismantling of settlements has seeped into all parts of government. And there will be those on the far Left who will see this latest round of alleged sleaze as more proof of the corrupting nature of the "occupation." To all those, I have six words: Relax, the sky is not falling. If these new allegations produce an indictment - which they very well may, or very well may not - it would not be an indictment against all Israel, but rather against one man leading the country at one particular moment in its history. This scandal speaks no more of the country than Watergate spoke of America in 1973, and is no more indicative of rank-and-file Israel than Eliot Spitzer's call-girl scandal a few weeks ago was a reflection on all of New York. No need to extrapolate from the particular to the general in this case and say that the sky is falling. Yet that's what will be said, and that's what so many in this country are probably thinking. Why? Because we are a nation that, to large degree, likes to say the sky is falling. We feed off political and military drama; it's as if we need it to feel alive. Just a week before news of this latest investigation filtered out, we were all preoccupied with another great drama: the spy affair in the US (where did that story disappear to?). And just after that, there was Olmert's message to Syrian President Bashar Assad about withdrawing from the Golan Heights, another bold-headline story. The need for drama is as integral a part of the Israeli psyche, of the Israeli character, as any of the other traits that have been mentioned in numerous retrospective articles on Israel at 60: ingenuity, pragmatism, chutzpah. We fret, we worry, we complain. It's part of who we are. We are a hypercritical people - about others, and about ourselves. We expect more of ourselves, and definitely more of our leaders. And so when the leaders don't live up to our expectations, we gasp. If there is any extrapolation to be made from this affair, it is not about the nature of the Israeli, but rather the nature of the Israeli leader. More to the point, there is a lesson to be learned here about the tendency of our leaders - from Shimon Peres to Yitzhak Rabin to Ariel Sharon, from Binyamin Netanyahu to Ehud Barak to Olmert - to believe that everything begins and ends with them, that they are indispensable, and that only they can guide the country through the obstacle-strewn waters. Which is why these leaders hang on to power for so long (Peres, Sharon), and try to come back so often (Rabin, Sharon, Netanyahu, Barak). If US Sen. Barack Obama's campaign cry is "Yes we can," the rallying cry of the Israeli leader is "Only I can." And if "Only I can," then "I will stay through everything - through scandal, through defeat, through decade after decade after decade of activity. Why? Because I am indispensable, because the country needs me." But one thing the tragic stroke that felled Ariel Sharon has shown is that no one is indispensable - that no leader is bigger than the state; that the country will continue sailing along on its merry way because the nation is stronger and more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Sharon was felled at a very dramatic time in the country's history, with emotions raw and charged. The same can be said of Rabin. The country lost two leaders in mid-term, and at historic junctures, but continued - albeit with a hiccup here and there - and was able to cope and to face the continuing challenges. The news coming from the police fraud squad this week was undoubtedly unwelcome, and we all would have been much better off had this not the been the accompanying music to our Independence Day celebration. But it is. That is the reality. It is also not the end of the world. This affair, like so many before - and so many that will certainly follow - will come and go, and the country will continue on, because that is what this country does best. On Sunday night, as I was watching Maccabi Tel Aviv lose to CSKA Moscow with my sixth-grader son, a 10th-grader with whom we were watching the game, noticing the despondency on my son's face, asked him a telling question: "Do you know what will happen if Maccabi loses?" "No, what?" my son replied, not sure where this was all leading. "Absolutely nothing." Good lesson. If Olmert goes, or stays, not that much will change: Hamas will not love us more or less, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not sheath his nukes, Syria will not stop looking for ways to undermine us, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not stop needing us to negotiate, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not stop her search for a "shelf agreement," and US President George W. Bush will not stop liking this country. All that will happen is that there will be a huge political mess, and perhaps a new politician will emerge as prime minister whose policy choices, and even decisions, will be narrowed and even defined by external factors over which he or she will have little control. And we will muddle through it all, as we have done for the first six decades - sometimes better, sometimes worse, but all the while getting by, growing, developing and creating. That, perhaps, is the enduring mark of our first 60 years: an uncanny and blessed ability to cope and deal with nearly everything thrown in our direction.