Flipside: Eulogizing leadership

"I voted Labor in the elections, but now I'm becoming a member so I can oust Amir Peretz."

peretz 88 squint (photo credit: )
peretz 88 squint
(photo credit: )
"I voted Labor in the elections," one father mumbled quietly to another as they watched their daughters perform on stage at a Remembrance Day ceremony. "But now I'm becoming a member so I can oust Amir Peretz." "Well, I voted Kadima," answered the second dad in hushed tones, though not so low as to prevent those parents not participating in the discussion to overhear him. "And now I'm waiting for Winograd to help rid us of Olmert." The two men - whose greetings had consisted of their taking note of the fact that they hadn't seen one another since the war in Lebanon last summer, continued in this vein, while their children read aloud the names and ages of dead soldiers and civilian victims of Arab terrorism. Then they, like everybody else, sang "Hatikva," before solemnly filing out to the parking lot and turning on their cell phones to resume routine. "Where are the leaders when you need them?" they asked one another rhetorically, as they waved goodbye and pledged not to wait until war with Syria before getting together again to shoot the breeze. A SIMILAR exchange of loud whispering took place at a funeral a few days later - this time between two acquaintances who commented wryly on somebody's having to die in order for them to meet on a sunny Friday afternoon. The two men put their political discourse on hold long enough to listen to former Meretz Knesset member Yossi Sarid eulogize his departed friend, long-time Ma'ariv writer and Mapainik Levy Yitzhak Hayerushalmi, before heading to the bus waiting outside to take the mourners from Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolow to the cemetery at Kibbutz Einat. "This is an impassioned plea to anybody here who is planning on dying in the near future," Sarid began. "Think about whom you're abandoning us to… look whom Levy Yitzhak left us with." The gist of his witticism seemed to ring true to everybody present, who nodded and smiled, some through their tears. Sarid went on: "Levy Yitzhak used to phone me every Shabbat. 'We have to do something [about this terrible situation],' he'd say. 'We have to write something,' he'd insist... Now who's going to call me on Shabbat?" I would have volunteered, but it's highly doubtful Sarid had a floating Likudnik on a National Union raft in mind for his Sabbath portions. Though the one thing he and I would probably agree on is the need for sorely lacking leadership. In fact, it's the only mantra that's chanted countrywide by prince and pauper alike, regardless of his positions or of the issues in question. Indeed, "leadership" is the buzz-lyric of the hour, with nostalgia for it its musical accompaniment - particularly appropriate for remembrance days and burials. But is leadership really what we're longing for? Or, to put it in my son's words, "When was the last time you were satisfied with any government, other than one you read about in history books?" Alas, I have to admit, the kid has a point. There's nothing like retrospect to bring out the best in people. Especially leaders. Because while they're alive, they fail at executing the policies we support, or - worse - succeed at carrying out those we oppose. Which brings us to Arik Sharon, whose comatose state has left him in leadership limbo. On the one hand, he is not around to be called to task by the likes of Lindenstrauss, and slammed by the settlers who lost their homes to Kassam factories. On the other, he is not gone enough to be praised posthumously by the press who gave him etrog protection, and by the part of the public who handed him the helm in the first place. During the short period of popularity he enjoyed - after replacing his power-hungry-pariah reputation with that of a responsible father figure safeguarding his family by fencing, rather than fighting, off dangers in its midst - Sharon was a visionary. He persuaded hitherto unsympathetic people to rally around him; he wooed and won approval at home and abroad for his plan, which he then proceeded to carry out to the letter. If that's not the very definition of a leader, I don't know what is. The trouble is that I, for one - and I'm now one among many - thought then, and still do, that his vision was blurry. Whether or not one adheres to the cynical view that this blind maneuvering stemmed from Sharon's savvy awareness that territorial withdrawals would be sure to keep the media and the legal system off his back, the fact remains that he pulled it off through the ballot box, not some backroom barter. Ditto for Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz. The two fathers at the Remembrance Day ceremony who cast their ballots for the parties headed by these particular politicians are now praying for their replacement. The same goes for the two men who met at Levy Yitzhak's funeral. As though it is Olmert's and Peretz's lack of leadership and vision that has gotten us into this mess. As though our plight has nothing to do with their points of view. Or with the belief-system-driven behavior of the third wheel of this wobbly wagon - Tzipi Livni. Given their ideas about where Israel should be headed and how to get there, woe betide us if they actually possessed those qualities we all yammer about yearning for in our elected officials. Heaven forbid their acquiring the skills that might make them manage to take the lead by following in their predecessors' footsteps. And by breaking into a run. Herein lies the real root of our national yen: the individual hope of finding someone capable of putting our own ideology into practice, to which we attach a collective euphemism - leadership. The bad news is that ideologues make lousy politicians. But, considering all the eavesdropping that paying respect to the dead afforded me last week, I happily conclude that it's also the good news. ruthie@jpost.com