A Moral Flaw

Olmert believes he can continue determining the fate of the country, and the public is willing to allow him to do this.

Now that the Winograd Committee's final report has been published, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is like a surgeon whom a Health Ministry committee found to be a serial bungler, but acquitted of blame due to extraneous considerations. Even though this is the case, Olmert and his aides are behaving like a public relations firm hired by the negligent doctor to save his income: They are presenting the Health Ministry committee's findings as if his professional colleagues and competitors made false claims against him, even though he is perfectly capable of carrying on and performing surgery.

When an honest external committee finds that a doctor handles patients inappropriately, that doctor should look for a different way of earning a living, or retire; no rational patient would put his fate into his hands. But Olmert believes he can continue determining the fate of the country - and the way things appear to be moving, the public is willing to allow him to do this.

The final Winograd report is no less serious in its judgment of the prime minister's conduct, but it is not fatal. Moreover, even though the committee members emphasized that the two documents constitute a single analysis, the findings of the final report are in and of themselves frightening, presenting Olmert as someone who lacks the skills to manage the affairs of state in a crisis. Any reasonable person may reach such a conclusion after listening to the statement by Judge Winograd, or by reading the report. However, a cynical and energetic media campaign by the prime minister's bureau is distorting the ability of the public to evaluate the committee's insights.

Olmert's public relations staff has used the rehabilitation card offered by the committee, regarding the claim that he decided to embark on a ground operation due to ulterior motives regarding his post-war image, and diverted all attention to it. This way, they minimized, blurred and eliminated the brunt of the serious conclusions regarding his overall performance during the war. Olmert sighed as if a major weight had been lifted off him, his aides said, and felt a moral stigma placed on him by some of his rivals was being removed. On this, we can say that his behavior since the report's release and his efforts to present himself as someone who managed to pass the committee's test - is in itself a serious ethical flaw.

Anyone who continues claiming he can remain in charge of the fate of the country after such a report is a shameless man. His reliance on the fact that the committee declined to issue specific conclusions on individuals, in order to avoid the public censure demanded by the committee's conclusions, shows he is an inveterate cynic. Anyone who can twist black into white, unacceptable into worthy, proves he is quick of tongue, but deepens the suspicion that he is pulling the wool over our eyes.

Olmert's statements have seemed hollow before. During the war he declared, "We are winning," and when it became increasingly clear that the reality was different, he argued, "In every battle our troops have defeated Hezbollah." He praised the strength of the citizens in the North at a time when half had left their homes, and the other half, the poor and weak, were hiding helplessly in bomb shelters.

He admitted to the Winograd Committee that some things are said "because they need to be said." After the release of the Winograd report, his aides made sure to direct the public interest toward the army's failures while he was preparing a statement embracing the Israel Defense Forces. Verbal flexibility is the bread and butter of politicians; it becomes a bore when the contradictions are obvious, blatant and cheeky. Olmert is pushing himself into that place: How must we now interpret his impressive peace speeches? Does he really mean what he is saying, or are they merely "things that need to be said"?

The Winograd Committee evaluated Olmert based on his behavior, and the result is depressing. When we look at the performance of the prime minister in other areas, and compare it with his pleasing declarations, things seem similar: There has been no real change in relations with the Palestinians, no outpost has been removed, and the signals of peace from Syria were rejected.