Between Olmert and Katash

Here's an idea for an alternative bumper sticker: 'You lose, you fix it' - showing off the faces of Olmert and the Maccabi Haifa coach.

"You lose, you resign" - That's the English translation of the bumper sticker distributed by the headquarters of a group of army reservists trying to oust the prime minister. Two faces appear on the sticker: those of Ehud Olmert and Oded Katash. The message is clear: What was obvious to the coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv should also be obvious to the prime minister. Katash accepted responsibility for the failures of his team and stepped down. Now it's Olmert's turn to accept responsibility for the failure of the Second Lebanon War and go home.

It would be difficult to find a more precise expression of the populist gut feeling embodied in the activities of the organizations protesting against Olmert. For them, the state is like a basketball team that must win every game; the prime minister is the coach who must lead it to the championship, and the organizations are the fervent fans who demand the coach's resignation if he only manages to squeeze out a draw in a regular-season game. He must pay with his head for the game played early in his term, irrespective of his overall contribution to the team's success since then. For them, there is no other meaning to "personal responsibility."

The easiest way to demonstrate the baseless nature of the analogy is to respond to the reservists using their own language and terminology. In their equation, they should replace Katash with Ronny Levy, the coach of Maccabi Haifa's soccer team. He also lost the first games of the season and hotheaded fans called for his resignation. But Levy and the team's owner, Jacob Shahar, took a different view of the concept of personal responsibility. In their eyes, Levy must stay, to learn from his mistakes and solve the problems. The results are well-known: Maccabi Haifa recovered and began winning games. Here's an idea for an alternative bumper sticker: "You lose, you fix it" - showing the faces of Olmert and Levy.

Olmert never denied his personal responsibility for the effects of the war. He only disagrees, and rightfully so, with the two basic assumptions of his opponents: the definition of failure and the automatic translation of responsibility into resignation. First, it is true that there were many failures and mishaps in the war, but there is a big difference between that and presenting the war as a trauma equal to that of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, especially when examining the positive consequences of the recent war in terms of the broader strategic context.

Second, Olmert's mistakes resulted from inexperience, which led him to rely too heavily on the senior military command. These mistakes are minor in comparison with those of the main candidates to replace him, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, during their terms as prime minister. In many ways, the charismatic former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff tripped up the tyro prime minister (even though Olmert has been very careful since the war not to use this excuse). In any event, Olmert's responsibility does not necessarily have to be expressed by his resignation. It can also be used to repair the damage. The good of the state, not the punishment of the prime minister, is the determining factor.

The popular argument that Olmert is the only one who did not act on his responsibility for the war is tainted by demagoguery. As Ofer Shelach pointed out in Maariv, none of the individuals who resigned admitted failure or accepted personal responsibility. Amir Peretz was forced to resign because he lost the election for Labor Party chairman (and he is still blaming his predecessors in the military establishment for the army's performance during the war). Dan Halutz boasted of his rehabilitation of the army (but has still not provided his version of the events). Udi Adam and Gal Hirsch presented themselves as victims of their superiors (but ignored their own contribution to the military failure). That hasn't bothered the anti-Olmert camp from using these four as a lever for his ouster.

If Olmert's term is examined in its overall context, one finds a prime minister who absorbed the lessons of the war in all areas, and in particular in reference to the policy vis-a-vis Hamas. Olmert is now the most prominent spokesman for the idea of dividing the land as a condition for saving the Zionist enterprise. For the first time in seven years he is negotiating directly with the Palestinians, with the friendly support of the U.S. president. His resignation under these circumstance would paralyze the political system, halt the peace process and launch the rejectionist celebrations of the Israeli right and Islamic extremists. That is a very heavy price. After all, Olmert is not Katash, Israel is not Maccabi and life is not just sports.