Elected to Talk

It is indeed true that Olmert uttered some of these words of prophesy and vision when he was still an effective prime minister, but since when has there been any connection here between what leaders say and what the leadership does?

American intelligence circles have been warning of late about "a dirty electronic bomb," which would erase or interfere with all the data bases and cause chaos. It would appear that just such a bomb has already fallen on Jerusalem. If not, then there is no explanation for the gap between what Israel's leaders are saying and what they have been doing.

Take, for example, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who at the memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin exhorted against the rampaging by extremist Jewish settlers in the territories, and went so far as to describe how the stray weeds have become "metastasizing cancerous growths." Sharp and determined as always, he called - upon whom? - to uproot them. And if that same daydreaming and apathetic gardener-blunderer who is responsible for the situation is still not doing anything - hasn't plucked out even one single prickly outpost, and is still irrigating the wild crops with a watering can - Barak urged him on impatiently and called upon him "to move from words to deeds."

Or take, for example, President Shimon Peres, who also did not spare the rod of his tongue from that "small, unbridled and lawless minority that is brazenly challenging the authority of the state," and called for "denouncing and isolating it." "We must not be silent upon hearing their words of incitement and invective. It is incumbent upon the state to fearlessly pursue justice to the end."

These stirring words were uttered by the person who, as prime minister immediately after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, essentially frittered away the significance of the trauma and the lessons of "Rabin's heritage" by choosing to "reconcile" with the political representatives of that wing and grant them a public kashrut seal instead of "isolating and denouncing" them.

But then, as prime minister, he acted in a presidential way while today, in his capacity as president and therefore free of any executive responsibility, he can allow himself the luxury of operational assertiveness.

In Ahad Ha'am's famous dichotomy between a "priest" and a "prophet," between the man who rebukes and the man who implements, there is no doubt where our leaders stand: The more they let the opportunities and the operative power in their hands to change the reality slip through their fingers, the greater their rebuking and cautionary prophetic fervor.

Another example is taking shape in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: This week, with Churchillian sobriety, he went further than all his predecessors in pointing out the harsh reality and the sacrifices that it exacts: "If we are determined to preserve the state as Jewish and democratic, we must, having no alternative, give up parts of the homeland and also Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and return to the core of territory that is the state of Israel before 1967," he said.

And if you thought that what we have here are mere idle words, another check that has been postdated to the next millennium, Olmert hastened to clarify: "The decision must be made now! With no hesitation! The moment of truth has arrived! There is no possibility of escaping it! The opportunity can be missed, it can be postponed at a high price, but it has to be looked at with honesty, pride and responsibility."

If nearly a week has gone by since then, and the urgent "moment of truth" has slipped away without anything having been done - this is due only to a minor procedural delay, which has to do with the fact that the prime minister has petered out into a limbo of soon-to-be-former - he is a "lame duck" whose political status is lower than the level of the Dead Sea. In fact, it is doubtful that Olmert would have uttered such an assertive and urgent vision had he not already been on that mythical staircase where heads of the state and the army recall their goals, their visions and their colossal mistakes only when on their way down and out.

It is indeed true that Olmert uttered some of these words of prophesy and vision when he was still an effective prime minister, and in fact on the day he took up his position. So what if he said these things? Since when has there been any connection here between what leaders say and what the leadership does? In the rest of the world leaders are elected to do, to get things moving. The leaders of Israel in recent years see themselves as having been elected to talk nicely at ceremonies. Their rhetorical powers and their prophetic determination keep improving, becoming ever more acute, and reach a peak in the farewell solemnities; it's only when they are finished that they start rolling up their sleeves.