Exactly one month before the previous elections, on February 28, 2006, journalist Yoav Yitzhak convened a press conference at Beit Sokolow in Tel Aviv. At noon Yitzhak dropped a news bomb unlike any ever dropped during an election campaign in Israel. Yitzhak claimed that the leading candidate, Ehud Olmert, had taken a bribe.
The then-deputy prime minister had received a discount of $320,000 on a house he had bought on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem, according to the independent researcher. In exchange, claimed Yitzhak, Olmert had helped the contractor who sold him the house to receive irregular construction permits for the building.
Had Yitzhak been an American journalist working inside a living and breathing democratic system, it is clear what would have happened immediately after the announcement. Every leading newspaper and self-respecting journalist would have dived into the waters of the stormy affair. More and more details would have been discovered, more and more incidents of corruption would have been exposed. The election campaign would have centered on the character, abilities and morality of the leading candidate.
Thus, within a week or two, the democratic process would have proved itself. By election day the public would have received a reasonably clear picture of the person asking for their trust. Each citizen would have gone to the polls adequately prepared to decide in whose hands to place his or her fate.
But Yitzhak is not an American journalist; he's an Israeli one. Therefore, his startling revelation created only a dull echo. The journalists reported the accusations in brief, but many did not want to know that the leading candidate had a dark side, too. The disgust with Benjamin Netanyahu and the objections to Amir Peretz turned Olmert into the Great White Hope and paralyzed the public discourse. They were the reason why even after Yitzhak revealed what he did, there was no genuine discussion of the issue. And thus, in 2006, Israel elected Olmert.
The failure of the democratic system in the previous elections had far-reaching consequences. It imposed a catastrophic war on Israel and placed at its head the most corrupt and unsuccessful of all its governments.
One might expect that the lesson from this failure would be learned, that politicians and shapers of public opinion would understand we cannot once again choose a prime minister in a substandard process.
An unworthy democratic process is both morally defective and politically dangerous. A defective process, which does not serve the role of sorting out what it is supposed to, is liable to lead to a situation in which the elected national leader is a person who lacks judgment; a person whose true character is unknown, whose biography is not transparent and whose worldview is not clear.
But the lesson has not been learned. The first weeks of the primary in Kadima were disgraceful. None of the candidates presented a real platform. None of them proposed a challenging political or economic plan. No new idea, no vision, no inspiration.
The public has not yet received a true and full report about the candidates' life stories. What has Tzipi Livni done in effect to promote the public morality and absence of corruption in whose name she speaks? What has Shaul Mofaz contributed to the national security that he purports to represent? What has Meir Sheetrit done in the three years when he was Olmert's assistant? How has Avi Dichter proven himself since removing the mystery-shrouded mantle of the head of the Shin Bet security service?
True, none of the new candidates for the premiership is a scoundrel like Olmert. None of them is carrying Cremieux and Talansky and Rishon Tours in his backpack. But that is not sufficient. Although it is August and many people are in a state of summer semi-consciousness, the current election process must not be allowed to repeat the failures of its predecessor.
All of the candidates must clearly present their philosophies to the public. All of them must give a detailed account about their lives and deeds to date. If they don't do so, or are not forced to do so, we will all know that the failure of the 2006 elections was not a coincidence and one-time phenomenon.
We will all know that Israeli democracy does not function properly and is in an advanced state of atrophy.
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