Anyone who has ever tried to put in a good word for Ehud Olmert knows the drill. In the best case, he receives questioning glances, as if his mind had slipped a gear. In the less-best case, he is considered an incorrigible coddler protecting a deceitful prime minister for political reasons. In the worst case he is branded a garden-variety sycophant, bought by the regime for some unknown favor. In all these cases one gets the sense that to support the prime minister, however insubstantially, is to commit an act of moral turpitude.
The polls confirm this perception. Even after the operation in Syria (which was supposed to rehabilitate his military image) and the disclosure of his cancer (which was supposed to provoke empathy), more than 75 percent of Israelis are dissatisfied with Olmert and think he is unfit to be prime minister. Israel has never had a prime minister who is less well-liked and whose rivals march well ahead of him in the popularity parade.
This situation, which borders on a lack of public legitimacy, begs an explanation in the face of Olmert's broad parliamentary support in military, economic and foreign policy. During Olmert's term, Palestinian terror has been suppressed almost completely, with the exception of Qassam rockets fired on communities near the Gaza Strip, which extracts a much smaller price than suicide bombings. The economy is flourishing, unemployment is dropping and the stock exchange is thriving. Israel enjoys international support and its relationship with the American superpower is closer than ever.
In addition, more than 80 percent of the same Israelis who express revulsion for the prime minister tell the Central Bureau of Statistics they are satisfied with life in Israel. No outsider would understand: How is it that all this happiness and prosperity is not credited to Ehud ("I am not popular") Olmert?
The rational answer is that Olmert, unlike his predecessors, has alienated people on both ends of the political spectrum. The right despises him because it views him as someone willing to give parts of the Land of Israel to the Arabs. The left is revulsed by what it sees as an enemy of the rule of law (with first place in the "corruption index" at 56 percent). Both sides cannot forgive him for the Second Lebanon War - the right because he did not win, the left because he entered the war and did not get out in time. Both fault him for being the only one who evaded responsibility for the conduct of the war and its consequences. In that respect, he is faced by a rare alliance between two rival camps, united around a single issue - Olmert, go home.
But the hostility against Olmert does not end there. After all, he has answers for every complaint: As yet, he has not conceded a single bit of territory, and even the illegal outposts are still in place. None of the criminal suspicions against him have been proved, and in any event they are marginal affairs based on a conflict of interest. In the Lebanon war, he was a victim of the army's failures, and please do not forget the war's strategic achievements. But even these lines of defense, which are accepted by certain segments of the public, do not disperse the cloud of resentment.
To find the deepest reason for the Olmert hatred, one must search the depths of mass psychology, in the general sense of the crumbling of the state's authority, the lack of vision - all the factors that make up a leadership crisis. Israelis may be content on the personal level, but they are depressed on the national one. They have no direction. Author David Grossman put it well: "The people leading Israel today are unable to connect Israelis to their identity .... [to] give some meaning to the exhausting and despairing struggle for existence."
Olmert is a victim of this dynamic, but he also contributes to it through his personal and political behavior. As a leader, he personifies the Israeli identity crisis - he lacks a clear vision, he is not built for greatness, he conducts small, shady business deals and is beholden to the techniques of survival. It isn't as if there are other great lights at hand, but when we look at him we see ourselves instead of who we could be. That's why we don't like him.
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