Comment: Israeli democracy shows its strength

Not one politician in a rival party disputed Olmert's authority Thursday.

knesset 88 (photo credit: )
knesset 88
(photo credit: )
If there is one ray of light in the developments around Hadassah University Medical Center over the last day and a half, it's the affirmation of the strength and vitality of Israeli democracy. The astonishing success of Ariel Sharon's new party Kadima, in the polls at least, gave rise to the fear that the Israeli political system had become over-reliant on one man. Critics warned of the development of a presidential style of government and even of dictatorial tendencies. Even some of Sharon's supporters had reservations about the way a whole party, an entire government and ultimately the state itself, seemed to be based on one, hugely popular prime minister. Up until the first minor stroke three weeks ago, Sharon's age and health were barely whispered about, no one wanted to contemplate the earthquake of his disappearance from the public scene. Despite the job of vice prime minister being up until Wednesday night mainly titular (it was invented in the 1984 coalition talks) the transfer of power was swift and efficient. Only Ehud Olmert's neighbors on Jerusalem's Rehov Kaf-Tet Benovember were inconvenienced when traffic was blocked by the Shin Bet early Thursday morning. Olmert has never been one of the country's most popular politicians. He carries a long list of embittered rivals, and many of them are privately thinking right now that Olmert has no right to be holding the keys of power. But despite this, not one politician in a rival party disputed Olmert's authority Thursday. And more significantly, neither did any of his colleagues in Kadima. Some of them are bound to be calculating that the party under their own leadership would have more chances of still winning the elections. The stability of government is not the only encouraging sign. In most countries, including many democracies, a sudden life-threatening situation to the head of state is kept under a thick cloak of secrecy. He is whisked away to a private hospital, the roads around are closed and there is a media blackout. In Israel, a country still officially at war, all that is unthinkable. Sharon lies in a fully functioning general hospital, in the surrounding rooms regular patients are receiving treatment, in the courtyard outside dozens of TV teams jostle for space, some of whom arrived even before Sharon's ambulance, and the hospital is delivering regular bulletins on his condition. On Thursday at around 10 a.m., a crescendo of rumors arose, with various "reliable sources" insisting that the prime minister was already dead. But after a short while, the reporters realized that no one would dare to lie or hide information on such a subject and continued to wait for the next official briefing. There was no higher alert of the IDF and security forces Thursday, no additional policemen on the streets, demonstrations or protests. Most Israelis said some kind of prayer and shed a few tears for Ariel Sharon, but the country proved that it is stronger than any one man and life carried on as normal.