Clueless in Gaza, at the till, with the knaves. It’s over. Olmert has to go.
I never voted for Ehud Olmert or for any party he’s been a member of. But I admit to having a soft spot for him. Years ago, when I went out to run each morning at 5 a.m., I’d sometimes cross paths with him as he jogged through Baka and the German Colony. He was polite and intelligent, and there was an air of detachment, self-irony, that appealed to me. When he was mayor, he helped my community, Kehilat Yedidya, get a piece of land and a major donor for our synagogue building. I was impressed by his willingness a few years back to cast off his previous commitment to Greater Israel and to advocate for accommodation and compromise with the Palestinians.
I also think he was unfairly blamed for Israel’s failure in the Second Lebanon War, and my position was borne out by the Winograd report. In that conflict, he did not shine as a great and wise leader. The decisions he made were based on the recommendations given him by the military leadership. I would have rather had a more farsighted prime minister manage the conflict, but given of the bad professional advice he was given by the army, most of his decisions were not unreasonable.
Then there were his ethical problems. Again and again his name was tied to questionable campaign finance practices and conflicts of interest. He was no paragon of virtue, but he seemed to know how to stay just on the right side of the law.
I could never vote for a man so compromised, but over the last two years I’ve also refused to join the chorus of those calling on Olmert to resign because of his failure in the war and because of his questionable ethics. After all, he hasn’t yet been convicted of any crimes, and it’s clear that the ultimate political outcome of his departure will be the return of Binyamin Netanyahu to the prime minister’s office. That means the end of the peace process, a return to Netanyahu’s divisive and vicious politics, and not much of an improvement on the ethical front.
But yesterday’s preliminary court testimony by Morris Talansky is so damning that I can no longer countenance Olmert remaining in office. The crassness with which Olmert milked cash out of this Jewish businessman (who seems to have ethical problems of his own) may not be criminal–so far there’s no clear quid pro quo, and Olmert’s lawyers have yet to conduct a cross-examination. But criminal or not, we can’t have a prime minister who milks a Jewish cash cow for all she’s worth.
Olmert, like President Ezer Weizmann before him, seems to believe that Diaspora Jews owe Israeli leaders personal financial subsidies so that they can maintain comfortable lifestyles. Here’s the Israeli hubris that so turns off Diaspora Jews–we’re sacrificing ourselves for the Jewish state, so we deserve to be supported in the style to which we want to be accustomed.
When I made aliya, I refused to accept the subsidies and loans offered by the government and the Jewish Agency. Perhaps I was a bit extreme about my desire to pull my own bootstraps, but I felt that if I was going to make my life in Israel I needed to do it on my own, without charity. Zionism, I’ve always felt, is a lot more prosaic than the heroic image its advocates often paint. The truest Zionism is living in Israel, working, raising a family, and participating in the country’s communal, cultural, and political life. That’s the example I’ve tried to set for my children.
In turning Zionist leadership into an excuse for wheedling cash-stuffed envelopes from rich American Jews, Olmert has disgraced his country and his people. It’s time for him to go.