If Olmert doesn't get the message - it's into the streets

Our disgust derives not only from the actions of Olmert and Peretz, but lies in a deeper revulsion against our present political establishment.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
We knew the Winograd Report investigating the failures during last summer's war with Hizbullah would be critical of the political and military leadership. But no one expected a political earthquake of this magnitude. In his brief presentation on Monday committee chair, retired Judge Eliahu Winograd, was lethal in his remarks. Examining Winograd's criticism of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, what emerges is not just that mistakes were made. Everyone makes mistakes. In concluding that all of Olmert's mistakes "add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence," the committee essentially said it was Olmert's very character and decision-making processes that were deeply flawed. While the report was similarly critical of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and ex-chief of staff Dan Halutz, Halutz stepped down in January, and Peretz is bound to lose the Labor primary at the end of the month. This means that the public's attention can now focus squarely on Olmert. Given the severity and nature of the conclusions drawn, it will be very difficult for Olmert to stick to his present "battle plan," which amounts to giving lip service to the report and saying that he will "adopt" the committee's recommendations. Olmert's predicament is that Winograd dropped enough hints throughout the report initimating that its main recommendation to Olmert is undeniably that he "take responsibility" in the fullest sense and resign. OBVIOUSLY, the Winograd Report is not the first nail in Olmert's coffin. Besides his poor performance during the Lebanon War, the myriad corruption scandals dogging him has only grown larger. Indeed, we can now understand how it is that the country's longest-serving politician has no single policy achievement to his credit. Apparently he has been spending his 30-plus years in politics basically working to further his own fiscal interests as well as those of his financial backers. Which brings us to the planned demonstration against Olmert and Peretz in Tel Aviv this Thursday. While many analysts have claimed that the post-modern Israeli has for years been unwilling to interrupt his or her busy life to take to the streets, this time may be different. First, there are the opinion polls: Two polls released last night say that roughly three-quarters of Israelis think Olmert should resign, with a mere 12-16 percent disagreeing. Second, the atmosphere in the country following the report has become electrified. In their coverage of the report, news anchors and reporters alike found it impossible yesterday to maintain the typical facade of neutrality, and made it clear that they believed Olmert must go. To a degree, more than just Olmert's corruption or his blunders in Lebanon, what really riles the public can be summed up by Ma'ariv's headline "Eifo habusha?" - Where's the shame? In other words, our disgust derives not only from the actions of Olmert and Peretz; it lies in a deeper revulsion against our present political establishment. With the president accused of sexual assault, the finance minister accused of embezzlement, other politicians still under investigation in previous corruption scandals (and even soccer players being accused of throwing games), it is clear that, as Shakespeare put it, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." YET FOR ALL these scandals, none of the country's politicians has had the basic decency or dignity to resign. Even Halutz did not exactly resign of his own free will; he simply had the foresight to see that his end was nigh. This dogged determination to hold onto the reigns of power - regardless of the will of the people or the damage it causes the country - must make us wonder what exactly our politicians are doing in politics in the first place. What is clear is that, as a whole, they lack the genuine dedication to serving the public good that has defined the generations that led this country since its foundation. Given this pent-up disgust, should Olmert fail to take Winograd's hint and step down, Thursday's protest could become the largest demonstration this country has seen since the first Lebanon War, when hundreds of thousands called for resignations over Sabra and Shatilla. It will represent an attempt by the public to reassert its sovereignty, reminding the politicians that their positions are not theirs by right; that, rather, the privilege to lead is a trust bequeathed in escrow. When politicians are derelict in their duties, that trust must be passed on to others who will faithfully carry out the duties they swear to fulfill. The writer is deputy director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the IDC in Herzliya.