If there's one thing that works at full steam in Israel, and even overtime, it's the sanitizing of terminology. Likud activists and the prime minister's PR people have found the magic formula for excusing, explaining and even praising the way the government buckled under to pressure, its inability to make unpopular decisions and its dearth of leadership and determination. That formula is "the prime minister is attentive to the public's feelings."
In a properly run country and in a responsible government, a prime minister is not supposed to be attentive to the public's feelings, he's supposed to be completely focused on the needs of the people and the country. As David Ben-Gurion famously said: "I don't know what the people want; I think I know what the people need." That's the essence of representative democracy and political leadership; that's why the prime minister and his ministers are chosen.
Your heart aches to see how leaders in other countries conduct themselves. French President Nicolas Sarkozy withstood a general strike several weeks long against his plan to cut workers' pensions. Public transportation shut down, fuel depots closed, hundreds of thousands marched in the streets and France was paralyzed. But he didn't blink, flip-flop or surrender. His party stood by him and passed his plan in parliament, and the French people accepted it.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou faced bloody protests in the streets of Athens against his austerity plan. Banks were set on fire, one man burned to death, and crowds charged the parliament building. But he didn't blink, flip-flop or surrender. His party stood by him and the Greek people accepted the plan.
And what happens in Israel? This isn't the place to discuss the socioeconomic issues themselves - whether the recent price hikes are justified and whether cuts to education, welfare and health were preferable to paying 20 agorot per liter more for gas. That's not the point. A responsible government must think before it acts. It must weigh, deliberate and decide what is needed for the good of the country and stand firmly behind its decisions.
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer put it well when he said it's inconceivable for a cabinet that only six weeks ago passed a two-year budget in the name of stability to change it now only because of public opinion. Such a government loses its credibility in the eyes of the people, and even more importantly, in the eyes of the world. Israel can't afford this.
We can understand the prime minister. He has the misfortune of heading a party that long ago lost all concept of the culture of governing. His party's Knesset members say openly that what is most important to them is not the strength of Israel's economy or the intolerable social gaps, but the need to be reelected and survive in power. It's difficult for a prime minister under such circumstances. But the ability to overcome such difficulty is the true test of leadership, and this country deserves better leadership.