Hollow Leadership II

The center-left must prove that it is not a cosmetically improved incarnation of Olmert but rather an alternative to Olmert.

In the first round of the 2009 election campaign, Likud won. Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in preventing Tzipi Livni from forming a government, succeeded in redefining itself and succeeded in creating momentum. In contrast, Kadima under Livni failed in its coalition negotiations and failed in creating a high-quality, moral leadership team.

At the end of the first month of the great war of images, Likud is the new Likud of Moshe Ya'alon, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, while Kadima is the same old infected Kadima of Shaul Mofaz, Roni Bar-On and Tzachi Hanegbi. Likud is demonstrating power, modeling morality, the rule of law and leadership experience, while Kadima is limp, hiding behind a rosy-cheeked face on a hollow campaign billboard.

The second round is likely to be different. The Likud primary is liable to scar the new face that Netanyahu gave his party. But for now the trend is clear. The center-right bloc is being managed better and more wisely than the center-left bloc. While Likud has taken on board the lesson of the Olmert-era, Kadima is perceived as the continuation of that period. While Likud is positioning itself as the party of the new politics. Kadima is wallowing in the old politics. Livni's left-of-center is making gross mistakes that are paving the nationalist right's way into power.

Two years ago, David Grossman gave Israel its only public moment of truth in the past decade. His speech in Kikar Rabin after the Second Lebanon War was an Obama speech par excellence. He electrified a wounded, helpless nation by standing up, with courage and with grace, against a hollow leadership.

Grossman's performance in the Tel Aviv square and the concept that he coined there also define the current election campaign. The question the public is asking now is not left or right--it's serious or not serious, focused on the issues or corrupt. The question is whether a leadership that failed in its duties and forsook the country will be replaced by a moral, functional leadership.

Netanyahu has many faults, but he is aware of this. Livni has many virtues, but she is not aware of this. She did not openly rebel against Ehud Olmert, instead continuing to enjoy his patronage. She did not fight corruption or defend the rule of law. She did not put together a suitable leadership team or offer a peace, economic or educational plan. And so, on February 10 Netanyahu is liable to be viewed as the candidate of change, while Livni is liable to be viewed as the candidate of business as usual. Likud is liable to present itself to the public as a genuine leadership, while Kadima is liable to present itself as Hollow Leadership, part deux.

It's still not too late to change this. The trend is strong but not irreversible. If the parties supporting the division of the state can get it together they can still turn the race around. But to do that they must read the map correctly, and listen carefully to the hopes and dreams of the voters. And to do that, they must return to the fundamental insight of Grossman. Both the center and the left must outright reject the destructive act of Amos Oz, who gave his support to Olmert, is inciting against the Labor Party and in effect plumping for the same old spin-leadership of Kadima.

Regretfully, and in contrast to the insight offered by Grossman, Oz's way is both immoral and ineffectual. It might add another three or four Knesset members for Meretz, but it will not offer an alternative to the nationalist right and to the hollow center. It will push the majority of Israelis into Netanyahu's arms.

Time is short and work is long: Livni must immediately put together a new leadership team whose members are no less respected than those of Netanyahu's. Kadima and Meretz must cooperate with Labor instead of attacking it in a childish, irresponsible manner.

Livni, Ehud Barak and Haim Oron must offer concrete proposals for reaching peace with the Palestinians, not vague, abstract ones. The center-left must prove that it is not a cosmetically improved incarnation of Olmert but rather an alternative to Olmert. If the center-left does not do this it will lose in the 2009 election both its political world and its moral authority.