The Bottom Line / A hollow leader
Despite what most people think, totalitarianism is not the biggest threat to democracy.
It would be accurate to say that there is almost no danger of a stable democracy falling into the hands of a dictator. A democracy can only be at risk of turning into a dictatorship after going through a long process of deterioration, loss of legitimacy and a descent into anarchy.
It is anarchy, and not totalitarianism, that is the real danger to democracy. Last Wednesday, Israeli democracy showed how close it is to anarchy.
A flood of private member's bills passed in the Knesset, at a cost of billions of shekels, with every bill supported by 50 or 60 MKs. Knesset members shook their heads and said this is the sign of a government on its last legs, one that has lost control of the legislature.
But that is simply not true. It is actually the sign of a Knesset on its last legs, one that has lost its self-control - its ability to control its own whims and caprices. Every individual MK is busy fighting for his own 15 minutes of fame in the form of newspaper headlines. This is a parliament that long ago lost the raison d'etre for which it was elected: guarding the public interest.
There is no doubt that Olmert's tenure as prime minister will be seared into the collective memory as the time when Israeli democracy hopelessly deteriorated. The Knesset's loss of control this past week was just the final step in the process of eroding legitimacy that characterized his time in office.
Olmert gnawed away at this legitimacy on all fronts. The criminal investigations. The attempts to defend himself via unprecedented attacks on the rule of law - starting with his appointment of Daniel Friedmann as justice minister, continuing with his refusal to undergo questioning, and culminating in his accusations that police and prosecutors were motivated by extraneous considerations. His hedonistic lifestyle, which, even if it is not criminal, is at the very least nauseating. And worst of all, his failure to take personal responsibility, to set an example, to draw conclusions of any kind after his failure in the Second Lebanon War.
David Grossman called it "hollow leadership," and from every standpoint, it is a good thing Olmert is leaving. But it is more important to make sure that Israel leaves Olmertism behind. It is not enough to replace Olmert; we must make sure that whoever follows him starts rehabilitating our collapsing government.
The real lesson of the Olmert era is that the true threat to Israel's existence is internal. We must return to that basic quality of leadership known as setting a personal example: of modesty, of preferring the national interest to private interests, of willingness to pay a personal price for the good of the country. Without this, we will not survive.