Right of Reply: Hold the feeding frenzy

Gratuitous criticism of the prime minister ill serves the nation.

olmert 88 (photo credit: )
olmert 88
(photo credit: )
For several weeks now a feeding frenzy has been developing, and it's taken hold of the Israeli media. It's manifested by a series of reckless attacks against the security establishment, the government and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself. We seem to be witnessing an uncontrollable urge to engage in national self-flagellation. It's as if every cub reporter, pundit and anchorman feels a personal need to take a shot at the chief of staff. Every spin artist has become an armchair military strategist; and every pundit has taken to speculating about which ministers need to be replaced, and by whom. I was disappointed to see The Jerusalem Post's own reporter hop on the bandwagon with "Olmert realigns his master plan" (August 20), an analysis that seemed like nothing but criticism for its own sake. Its arguments seemed based on a supposed ability to read the minds of ministers and "senior Kadima officials," while weaving hypothetical scenarios. First came the claim that the prime minister had "forsaken his great vision" - of realignment - and then, a paragraph later, that Olmert "hasn't given up on realignment." Which is it? THE MOST scathing criticism I have heard recently from ordinary Israelis has not been leveled at the army or the government, but at the media, mainly in the wake of the cease-fire. In an urge to confront the "half-empty glass," the chattering classes have ignored some basic facts - for example, that during one month of fierce fighting in Lebanon we achieved much more than we did in the first Lebanon war, which lasted three years and led to an 18-year IDF presence in that country. Media criticism also overlooks the fact that this government had only served for two months before this war was forced upon us. Therefore, just as the government is now responsible for building the military force that will respond to threats in the future, if we wish to "analyze" the current status of our military we ought to investigate former Israeli governments - going back several governments. Most importantly, we've established that Israel now has a prime minister who is not afraid to confront Hizbullah. After six virtually uninterrupted years in which Hizbullah amassed a massive military force, that organization is now up to its neck in reconstructing southern Lebanon and compensating tens of thousands of Lebanese who were misled by the group's arrogant statements. There is no longer a constant flow of ammunition to Hizbullah, and the humiliation on our northern border has ceased. FOR ALL the tendentious criticism, I cannot imagine what Olmert could have done differently, faced with Hizbullah's aggression. In fact everyone, except for a handful of ultra-leftists, agreed that Israel's response would need to be harsh. Finally, after so many years of criticism of our anti-terrorism battle by the international community, this government succeeded in persuading even the United Nations that Jerusalem has the right to fight terrorism. True, the prime minister was elected partly because of Kadima's realignment plan. But we do not want our leaders to act like robots: Surely no one expects the premier to ignore changing circumstances, or fail to adapt his decisions to new realities? Moreover, anyone who understands anything about economics realizes that the economic burden imposed by the war does not now enable us to allocate the resources necessary for a costly national project of realignment. Would anyone want the prime minister to abandon the residents of the north? Do we want the government to spend resources recklessly and bring the State of Israel to the brink of economic crisis? It is clear that, under the current circumstances, a decision by the government to suspend realignment would make sense. EHUD OLMERT served as mayor of Jerusalem during some of the most devastating terror attacks in the history of the state, and while the city was experiencing an economic slump. He nevertheless built up Jerusalem as no other mayor before him. Contrary to many mayors who invest in ostentatious, short-term projects to please voters, Olmert poured huge amounts of money into projects that didn't lend themselves to quick photo-ops but are expected to provide lasting benefits to the people of Jerusalem. For instance, he initiated a tremendous amount of work to bolster the capital's infrastructure, and established the light rail project - knowing full well that the fruits of such investment would be reaped only after his tenure as mayor was over. Granted, journalists have a duty to criticize government. However, serious criticism of decision-makers, whether they are prime ministers, ministry directors-general or leaders in the private sector, ought to be reasonable, informed and offer constructive alternatives to the policies under attack. It strikes me that the knee-jerk criticism of the prime minister we've seen lately - including in this fine newspaper - does not reflect the profession at its best. Joining a wolf-pack is not "analysis," but a disservice to readers who genuinely want an independent assessment of critical issues. The writer is a Jerusalem physician.