A Failure of the Elites

Despite the Syrian spin, Ehud Olmert is no longer interesting. The man who shamed the office of Israel's prime minister is history. Even Nahum Barnea and Yair Lapid cannot excuse him.

Despite the Syrian spin, Ehud Olmert is no longer interesting. The man who shamed the office of Israel's prime minister is history. Even Nahum Barnea and Yair Lapid cannot excuse him. Even Ram Caspi and Eli Zohar cannot extricate him. Even Benny Steinmetz and Alfred Akirov can no longer save him. Even Haim Ramon and Haim Oron cannot challenge him. The stream is too powerful, the dollars in envelopes too many.

Every illusion will out. Even a genius of a juggler like Olmert cannot go on forever. One after another the balls are dropping from his hands. He is trying, still trying, but the attempt will not last much longer.

And so the question moves from Olmert to others. We already know more about Olmert than we wanted to. The question now is, how did he become prime minister? Why, at such a fateful time, did Israel entrust its future to a taker of envelopes?

Why, for the two years during which the handwriting was on the wall, did only one David Grossman stand up among the writers? Why did only one Mordechai Kremnitzer stand up among senior academics? Only one Zahava Gal-On in Meretz? Only one Shelly Yachimovich in Labor? And no one in Kadima. Not one senior attorney. Not one person from the business community.

The answer is simple and worrisome. A failure of the elites. Olmert became prime minister because of a serious failure of the elites. Olmert survived as prime minister because central elements in the elites covered for him.

Olmert never fooled the wider public. It knew all it needed to know to form a firm opinion of the real estate speculator from Jerusalem. Although the public is far from sources of information and the nexus of events, the public knew all too well that Olmert was fundamentally flawed.

It was precisely those on the inside who did not know or did not want to know. Precisely those who rub elbows with the powerful who allowed Morris Talansky's partner to lead them astray. For a while, those in the top thousandth percentile whose money means that what they say goes, acted as if they were deaf, mute and blind. They did not investigate. They did not criticize and made no demands. They did not act as society's leaders should.

Olmert was a failure from his first day in office. He went to war intending to remove the threat of 13,000 rockets on the North, and achieved the threat of 40,000 rockets all over Israel. He promised to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas and made Hamas much more powerful. He pledged to evacuate 70,000 settlers and evacuated not even one. He sent the school system into a decline instead of bolstering it. He undercut the justice system instead of fortifying it. He brought Israel to a moral nadir and unprecedented paralysis. The attempt to distract people with an imaginary peace grab only adds to this. He was the biggest failure as a prime minister, and the most corrupt in the history of Israel.

And yet, miraculously, Olmert remains a star to the wealthy, and in some underhanded way, he also managed to gain the quiet support of the intelligentsia. While Richard Nixon had to fight against the East Coast elite, the Israeli Nixon is leaning on the open support of the economic elite as well as the quiet support of the peace-camp elite.

Innocently, out of misunderstanding, both these elites collaborated with him. At this fateful hour, they acted as spineless elites without integrity. They allowed the embarrassing spectacle of Olmert as prime minister to play on the stage of history.

And so it is, as the curtain begins to come down and the greasepaint is wiped from the hero's fraudulent face, that the Israeli economic and intellectual powers must give an accounting. For Israel to rise from the depths of the Olmert age, it needs to be led by strong, quality groups.

However, in order to lead again, these groups much understand that they have failed over the past two years. They must admit their failure, analyze it and correct themselves. They must wean themselves from the curse of the kid-glove treatment, and renew their pledge to matter-of-factness, fairness and morality. Only if the Israeli elites serve democracy and not destroy it, will they once again be worthy.