Olmert wins support in vote on Winograd

PM gets approval for plenum address by 59-53 votes; says report "forces Israel, I to do soul searching."

bereaved parents 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bereaved parents 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the Knesset Monday, in his first speech since the Winograd Committee released its harsh findings on his handling of the Second Lebanon War. It was not his words, however, that shook the Knesset, but rather the painful pause when relatives of soldiers killed in the campaign interrupted his words with tearful accusations. Olmert had just told the plenum that the decisions made during the war were "inevitable and realistic," when Eliphaz Baeloha, whose 21-year-old son Nadav was killed on July 20, 2006, stood up and yelled, "You are not my prime minister! I renounce my citizenship." "As a resident of Carmiel and a father who lost his son during the war, I am sickened with this country and its leadership," Baeloha told The Jerusalem Post. "How could Olmert dare to stand and say what he did? What right does he have to lead us?" Baeloha's words led the other bereaved family members in attendance to rise from their seats and address the prime minister as well. Mirta Szajbrum, whose son Yaniv, 24, was killed during the final week of the war, was heard yelling above all the rest, "My son died during the war! Where were your sons?" Baeloha was removed by security guards, and the rest of the bereaved families left their seats in the upper gallery. MKs Arye Eldad and Uri Ariel, both of the National Union-National Religious Party, also left the plenum; they all joined a protest in the nearby Wohl Rose Garden led by reserve soldiers and members of the Bereaved Families Forum. In the plenum, Olmert took several moments to recover and appeared visibly shaken. "Winograd forces the Israeli people and, first and foremost, its leadership, to do some soul-searching, not only in the matter of the failures of the war but also in basic values," Olmert said. "I take full responsibility for the failures. There is no effective democracy without accountability and I accept that. I'll use this responsibility to fix the faults, implement the recommendations and jump-start the changes. I began with this the day after the war and I will continue with it [ceaselessly]." Olmert had begun his speech by defending his decision to go to war, reminding the MKs that he had received the overwhelming support of the Knesset to launch the Second Lebanon War after Hizbullah abducted two IDF soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006. "The unequivocal opinion of the defense establishment before the Second Lebanon War was that in the case of an abduction attempt or rocket attacks, Israel must respond harshly in the entire area in a disproportionate fashion," Olmert said. The Knesset narrowly approved the prime minister's speech on the Winograd Report, by 59 to 53, with six coalition MKs - Labor's Ophir Paz-Pines, Shelly Yacimovich, Eitan Cabel and Danny Yatom, and Kadima's Avigdor Yitzhaki and Marina Solodkin voting with the opposition. The vote was purely symbolic. MKs from the opposition heckled Olmert relentlessly, and called for his immediate resignation. "The prime minister is evading responsibility. It won't help to put the responsibility on the people, the opposition, on me personally. We all supported the war, and even today we wouldn't take it back... But we didn't support the failed management of the war," said opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud). He mockingly added that the government clearly did not know the meaning of responsibility, and should return former defense minister Amir Peretz and former IDF chief of General Staff Dan Halutz to power. MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), who opened the special plenum session on the report with an emotional plea for Olmert's resignation, said the prime minister had not heard the last from the bereaved families. "The blood of the sons is crying out from the ground," said Gal-On. "You will continue to hear it until you step down. You won your war of survival, but the State of Israel lost. A state is not a survival plan, and therefore you must resign." On Sunday, Labor Chairman Ehud Barak announced that he would not pull his party out of the coalition, despite a previous promise that Labor would quit the government once the final Winograd Report was released. Barak's decision left Olmert's coalition with 67 seats out of the 120-member Knesset. The protesters outside the Knesset expressed equal disappointment with Barak and Olmert for their decisions to keep the government intact. "Olmert may have won this round and managed to survive the Winograd Report, but this nation will demand true leadership," Tafnit Party Chairman Uzi Dayan told those gathered. "Specifically today, when there was a bitter terrorist attack in Dimona, the nation knows that there is no security with a government that lacks the faith and trust of the governed." Protesters said there would have been additional chaos in the plenum if the Knesset had allowed IDF reservists to attend the session. "They did not allow the IDF reservists to sit in the guests' balcony, to my great regret," said MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP), who heads the Knesset lobby on the Winograd Report. "Those who are willing to send them to battle, including the prime minister, are not willing to look them in the eyes when they address the parliament." The protesters vowed to continue their fight with a series of rallies outside the homes of cabinet ministers and influential lawmakers.