Not immersed in the magnificent flames of the twilight like the operatic gods of Wagner, but rather sitting like tattered and battered cardboard ducks in a shooting gallery, Israel's current leaders wait for the close of their political and public careers. As expected, the first to fall was Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. Who's next in line? Defense Minister Amir Peretz? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? President Moshe Katsav? Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson? None of them suffers under the illusion that he will remain in place for much longer. The question is simply in what order they will fall, and that is not really interesting.
The most depressing aspect of this entire spectacle is that it is so familiar and commonplace, almost normative in the past decade. Israel's last four prime ministers were all connected more to the words "investigations" and "downfall" than to words like "vision" and "path." An Israeli born a quarter century ago will have difficulty remembering any leader in his lifetime who conveyed both integrity and good faith, both judgment and modesty, and both responsibility and decency, or simply even good sense, in a term of office that ended well. No one, of course, is talking about "success."
In the past decade, the post of prime minister has undergone an especially radical change. The evidence lies in the fact that Ariel Sharon, who was more manipulative, cynical, brutal and enveloped in corruption than anyone else, was considered at the end of the day "the last of the giants" in comparison to his predecessors and his heir. Thanks, inter alia, to the culture of the Likud Central Committee and the leaders it spewed forth (including to Kadima), the position of prime minister is no longer really so coveted, nor sought for the right reasons (in other words, furthering the national interest beyond personal survival); it has almost become a kind of punishment: an intimidating and sacrificial, almost suicidal, job, as have quite a few other public positions.
On the face of it, being prime minister is the most desirable of posts, the career peak for any politician and the dream job of many. On the face of it, it would be natural for any politician to wish, with all his might, to have the job with the purpose of fulfilling an agenda and a weltanschauung that he has formulated over the years. But is this indeed so? Perhaps that is the way it is among the contenders for the presidency in France or the United States.
In Israel, most of the prime ministers since David Ben-Gurion found themselves shoved into the lofty position rather than having declared that they were heading there. Most of them were pushed onto the stage at a moment of grace or disaster, by default after the failure or collapse of their predecessors; and if an appetite for the job awakened inside Golda, Rabin in his first term, Shamir, Sharon or Olmert, it came only with the taste of the food, after they had already sat down at the table; and if they had any "vision," it developed too late, hastily warmed toward the latter part of their tenures.
The two who did not follow this pattern, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, competed for the premiership in the way that is accepted in the world - callously, openly, and without pretense of modesty. Not by chance, both of them fell apart in the job and were kicked out in record time, expressly because of the very traits that had brought them there in the first place: arrogance, aggressiveness and competitiveness. The fact that the same two men, of all the creatures on earth, are now considered the most serious contenders for a repeat round, also testifies to how this post has deteriorated. Apparently only "Shi'ite suicide bombers," graduates of reconnaissance units like Barak and Netanyahu, would be prepared to run for the post, and even they are doing so more out of a competitive urge and hurt ego requiring repair than out of a formulated vision. All the others appear to be filled with some strange dread when they get close to the heart of this place of gloom.
One looks around and wonders: What, is this all we have? Only Barak and Bibi (O.K., also Ami Ayalon, by himself and somewhat hesitant)? Where are all the others? Is their skin too thin? Is their can of worms too full? Where are all the talented people in Israel - entrepreneurs with vision, businessmen who control worldwide concerns, brilliant minds with vision who develop revolutionary technologies. Don't their fingertips itch to be prime minister? Is there no vision, no desire left in this country other than that of Barak and Netanyahu to show which of them can make a bigger comeback?
There is much talk here about the "killer instinct" as a basic to contending for the premiership, the position of defense minister or chief of staff. This signifies mostly that one has a lousy character, which over here is regarded as proof a person is "worthy." But experience has proved this is not sufficient in the long run.
Ben-Gurion [quoting the book of Proverbs] said "a nation where there is no vision will perish," and a leader who has no vision will also perish. You cannot really want to be prime minister when, in fact, you do not really know why, except that you want to be elected. After all, what will you do in the job: Smoke cigars? Milk millionaire friends? Open a tunnel? Beef up settlements? Prove there is no partner? Have your eyebrows lifted? What?
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