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Olmert's Foot

Last updated: 2003-09-18

I didn't much like Teddy Kollek. I found his arrogance typical of the old style Zionist pioneering in your face.

He was condescending to anyone the moment he found out he or she was not a multi millionaire. But he did work hard for Jerusalem and his heart was in the right place even if his soul seemed to be missing. I found his successor, Ehud Olmert, lacking in redeeming features, though his oily charm could on occasion win over. He was clearly using his position to further his own political and other ambitions but in his favour he could be a decent advocate of Israel. In comparison to both, so far, the newest incumbent (despite his outward Charedi appearance that belies a tolerance and broad vision) strikes me as the most impressive even though I am instinctively antagonistic to any religious party and a fortiori a religious bloc. He has devoted his life so far to helping others. Who knows. Being religious means that I believe that God can intervene, miracles can happen and this could be one.

Olmert has gone on to higher things. He is now Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry and Heaven forfend he may go even higher. Charges of corruption, seem positive attributes nowadays for the highest of positions. But he has one essential quality for leadership, the capacity to put his foot in it and thereby to do serious damage to Israeli
Public Relations. This week he was at it again publicly declaring that Israel should consider assassinating Yessirthatsmypocket Arafat (and talking about corrupt politicians he and his wife ought to go straight to the top of the list). Olmert said to Kol Yisrael and it was immediately
fanfared around the world that ' killing Arafat is one of our options.'

This was unbelievably stupid, if typical. All he achieved was to rally the world around the enemies of Israel, convene the United Nations who were provoked into about the only case of unanimity in its inglorious history and even got the United States and France to be nice to each other. Not, I  agree that the UN needs an excuse to roll out its anti Israel chorus. He gave added fodder to the Guardian, the BBC and all the others who don't need to wait for Israel to do something stupid in order to castigate and demonise her.

Arafat, regardless of the odium he may invoke in some quarters, is regarded by millions of people as a hero. For example, if Nelson Mandela is his friend then automatically millions of South Africans are going to love him too. Whether we like it or not, this is the fact. He is not just a hero to his own suffering victims who are capable of all sorts of delusions but also to millions of Arabs and others in underdeveloped countries who automatically make heroes of  Bin Laden and anyone not a friend of the United States.

I do not approve of assassinations. The fact is that assassinations have achieved nothing. The bombers keep coming. Each time a senior Hamas man is killed a new hero is created. It does nothing to lessen the threat and it simply produces thousands more willing dupes ready to kill themselves for a cause they believe in, totally convinced that they are degrading Israeli
morale and long term willingness to go on fighting (and at worst a steady source of income for an otherwise destitute family). If it could be shown that assassinations actually diminished Hamas, really brought security, I might even be open to being persuaded to abandon my moral scruples. Halacha does allow me to defend myself by pre-emptive strike. However, clumsy failed attempts only raise the issue of due process and flouting International Law and the killing of bystanders. The fact is they have not at all stopped the bombers, or would be bombers, in their tracks.

I also agree that the Palestinians need saving from their own leadership. But then I think we Jews do too! Of course survival is more important than Public Relations. But this does not mean that PR has not an important part to play in life and politics. Israeli politicians just don't seem to realize that aggressive posturing on the media, beamed to millions of already antagonistic viewers, merely reinforces negative stereotype perceptions of Israelis. By contrast some of the softer, more circumspect, diplomatic Israeli spokesmen like the new Israeli Ambassador to Washington do a great deal of good. If anyone needs shutting up it is Olmert.

In this weeks Torah reading there is a well-known line that goes 'The secrets (of the world) belong to God' How history will play itself out only God knows. He got us into this mess I pray he'll get us out. But the text goes on 'The revealed (the obvious), is for us to deal with'. How can we hope to encounter the sublime if we cannot deal with very basic, mundane issues, like keeping our mouths shut?