Elections now!

The Olmert government has lost its credibility. The people demand change.

pro israel rally in la 2 (photo credit: AP)
pro israel rally in la 2
(photo credit: AP)
I write the following in pain. The anger at the failures displayed by our leadership when the nation was under fire continues escalating among Israelis of all political persuasions. The issue of whether Hizbullah gained or lost from this war is irrelevant. There is an emerging consensus that this scandal-ridden government was unable to fulfill even one of the goals proclaimed at the outset of the war. The leaders have lost the confidence of the nation and thus forfeited the moral right to remain in power. They must go. We, the people, lack faith in and deplore commissions of enquiry whose terms of reference are drawn up and personnel selected by those under investigation. The demand is for a clear exposure of the source of the failures without any possibility for a cover up, and immediate implementation of the necessary remedial action. The urgency is heightened because in a possible second round of hostilities the free flow of arms via Egypt to Gaza, irresponsibly facilitated by the Sharon government during the disengagement, may subject all of Israel to missile attacks. Moreover, an effective radical shake-up of the nation's political and military leadership could of itself deter a second round. The urgent necessity for reform at all levels cannot be delegated to the existing Knesset. The recently elected MKs will be tempted to find ways and means to retain the current leaders in a newly constituted government in order to avert elections which could jeopardize their seats. But despite the fact that the people went to the polls less than six months ago, there is a growing groundswell throughout the nation demanding new elections. Besides, the disastrous Sharon disengagement policy, which was the glue restraining the conflicting factions of the dominant Kadima Party from tearing themselves apart, is now clearly no longer on the table. THERE ARE and there are not comparisons with the Yom Kippur war. In the confrontation with Hizbullah close to 160 were killed, many more were wounded, and a million Israelis were forced to huddle in dilapidated shelters while more than 4,000 Hizbullah rockets rained over them for over a month. Yet in contrast to the Yom Kippur War, closure was never achieved. Let us therefore be under no illusions. Although, unlike the 1973 war, the immediate threat against us was not existential, the failures of our political and military leaders were no less disastrous than those of the Golda Meir government, which was ultimately forced to resign. As in 1973, the rage currently sweeping the nation intensifies as the public becomes more acquainted with the graphic details and magnitude of the war's misconduct: the orders that were countermanded every few hours; the empty emergency storehouses and unavailability of basic combat equipment; the poor intelligence; the unprecedented proportion of casualties from chaotic friendly fire; the soldiers who lacked food and water. Worst of all was the virtual paralysis, the indecision of the government with its policy zigzags, which resulted in missed opportunities and unnecessary casualties. Last week Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin conceded that a "system collapse" had occurred during the war. THE ANGER has intensified because of a growing belief that the delayed ground invasion - resulting in major casualties - which was only approved after Israel accepted the cease-fire, was primarily motivated out of a desire to "spin" a victory rather than further Israel's strategic interests. Paradoxically, the people themselves were the ones who displayed extraordinary fortitude, volunteerism, and a willingness to make painful sacrifices. Ordinary citizens with the most to lose, who were initially united in supporting the government, are now infuriated that blunders by their leaders denied Israel a perceived clear-cut victory and emboldened our enemies and terrorists throughout the world. The chaos on the domestic front, with a million Israelis in the north left to their own devices and reliant on voluntary bodies and the philanthropy of a generous oligarch, is even now impossible to comprehend. Surely the collapse of social welfare and abandonment of the poor under such circumstances alone constitute sufficient grounds for a government to resign. MILITARY EXPERIENCE need not necessarily be a prerequisite for assuming a leadership role. But when Amir Peretz defends his behavior after the war by making a bizarre statement blaming the IDF leadership for having failed to inform him that Hizbullah had thousands of rockets positioned against us, that says it all. It clearly underlines that, from day one, a painfully unfit candidate was irresponsibly manipulated into accepting the sensitive defense portfolio in order to divert him from the Finance Ministry. Senior political analysts and investigative journalists throughout the Hebrew press now allege that the leadership disasters were an inevitable byproduct of a government made up of opportunists and corrupt ministers, many currently facing criminal charges. But to make matters worse, the unseemly behavior of the cabinet during the course of the war continues unabated. In fact, ministers give the impression that they are still engaged in low-level party primaries as they shamefully seek to capture media interest by leaking confidential information, scoring points against one another, and making inane and frequently damaging contradictory remarks to the public. HAVING SAID this, we must appreciate that we were truly fortunate to receive this warning call now and not two years in the future. It enables us to repair our deficiencies while we still have time. But the changes we are obliged to make cannot be effective under the stewardship of the same failed leaders. Ehud Olmert announced that "the responsibility for the results of the war is wholly mine." If the principle of public accountability is to have any meaning in our political culture, the prime minister should behave like a statesman and accept the consequences. For the good of the nation and in order to forestall more painful and divisive public demonstrations he should bow to popular demand and call early elections. Should the failed politicians succeed in bypassing the will of the people and cling to power, it will lead to a crisis in national confidence. It would also be a tragedy and a disgrace for Israel to be led during this critical time by a marginalized, lame-duck government, held in contempt by the majority of its citizens. The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs and is a veteran international Jewish leader. ileibler@netvision.net.il