Has it all been forgotten?
Olmert's relationship with the ultra-Orthodox may be good, but as became evident during his stint as Jerusalem mayor, it has been at the expense of the secular community.
In August, Finance Minister and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was interviewed for the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Bakehila, and complained bitterly that the ultra-Orthodox had forgotten "all the tremendous achievements enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox community thanks to my personal initiative, in the context of the close cooperation that prevailed between me and the ultra-Orthodox community during the 10 years I served as mayor of Jerusalem."
Olmert said of himself: "There has never been a secular leader who has proven leadership of such tremendous sacrifice to the ultra-Orthodox as I. Has it all been forgotten? Have all the schools that I helped built for ultra-Orthodox children disappeared? Have all the mikvehs [ritual baths], synagogues and Torah institutions that I established evaporated into thin air?"
In late October, Olmert was also interviewed for the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Mishpacha, where he complained about the ultra-Orthodox political activists who were ignoring "the decisive contribution I made, which paved the way for Uri Lupolianski to be elected mayor of Jerusalem after I resigned. After I left City Hall, great pressure was placed on me to appoint a secular replacement. Every child knows that during the months when Lupolianski served as my replacement, the road to the mayoralty was paved for him, and he won the legitimacy that he had lacked among the non-ultra-Orthodox public."
The reason why the ultra-Orthodox have tended to forget Olmert's achievements is that they attribute a central role to him in the establishment of the Sharon-Shinui government (Olmert: "To claim that I was the architect of the coalition without ultra-Orthodox is a combination of ignorance and a little wickedness"). But the question that is no less interesting, and perhaps more so, is how secular voters - and particularly the hundreds of thousands of Shinui voters - who now support Kadima have so easily forgotten the fact that Olmert was the one who sold Jerusalem to the ultra-Orthodox.
What is the state of relations now between Olmert and the ultra-Orthodox? Not bad, it turns out. Olmert told Mishpacha that "I often visit Rabbi Elyashiv [the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Degel Hatorah party, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv], and I am happy that I worked to stop the flood of abomination in the telephone calls systems (referring to the restriction of sex calls on mobile phones), on his request." He told Bakehila that "At this very time, I am working tirelessly to find solutions to ensure that the ultra-Orthodox public will not be shortchanged."
Reminder: On the eve of the Jerusalem mayoralty elections in 1993, Olmert reached an agreement with the head of the ultra-Orthodox lists. In the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, there was a call by the leading Torah scholars to vote for Olmert, who beat incumbent Teddy Kollek by a large margin. Olmert gave almost all the senior political posts in City Hall to his religious and ultra-Orthodox partners, and began a massive channeling of budgets to the ultra-Orthodox sector.
Olmert emphasizes that no shop or place of entertainment was closed on Shabbat during his term. That is true, but the clientele of these places, the secular community, are leaving the city in droves. It's true that the secular community has additional reasons for leaving the city, such as the high cost of housing and the lack of employment, but above all, they have a feeling that it is not longer their city. Two moves by Olmert contributed substantially to this feeling: the closing of Bar-Ilan Street to traffic during prayer times on Shabbat, a move that was interpreted as an ultra-Orthodox victory in the battle for Jerusalem, and the transfer of the mayoralty to Lupolianski.
In two months from now, Olmert will be conducting coalition negotiations with the ultra-Orthodox parties. The secular voter should ask himself whether the man who established a separate department for ultra-Orthodox education in Jerusalem will not be ready to reestablish the Ministry of Religious Affairs. What are the chances that Olmert of all people will pass the partnership law, and enable hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish new immigrants to marry in Israel? And isn't there a fear that he will once again increase the child allotments?
Israelis have a tendency to vote based on political and security issues, and to ignore the question of the lifestyle that will prevail in the society where they live. That is a mistake, one reason being that in the case of Olmert, the handwriting is already on the wall. The person who was willing to sell Jerusalem to the ultra-Orthodox will be willing to sell them much more.