In the Land of 'Off With Their Heads!'

Does the definition 'our leaders' still carry any meaning in Israel today? Perhaps 'our nominees for dismissal' would be a more precise phrase.

Those unfamiliar with Israel's political reality will perhaps file Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech at the inauguration of the Intel plant in Kiryat Gat this week alongside Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Waving his fists in the air, his face projected onto a giant screen, Olmert mobilized every last bit of his rhetorical talents for peace, security and the welfare of the people: "Nothing will stop us on the way to achieving calm and maintaining security! We'll continue with the talks in order to bring peace, which will create a new horizon of hope and of development and prosperity throughout Israel!"

Could any speech be more impressive? Unfortunately, however, all of us are familiar - and then some - with Israel's political reality, and so even these impassioned words, like the ones that came before it and those that are yet to come, faded away without making much of an impression. And is it any wonder? We've grown accustomed to the permanent comi-tragic gap, if not the nearly diametric opposition between, on the one hand, the solemnity of our leaders, their sense of a "historic" occasion and the loftiness of their rhetoric, and on the other hand, their pathetic political standing and actual ability to make things happen. "Nothing will stop this government" - really? Perhaps we should first find out what, exactly, might make it move.

Moreover, does the definition "our leaders" still carry any meaning in Israel today? Perhaps "our nominees for dismissal" would be a more precise phrase. Because the Queen of Hearts from "Alice in Wonderland" would feel right at home here, in a country where taxi drivers and politicians alike never cease to demand - with a habitual, regal naturalness - that the heads of those in charge be removed from their shoulders. The most common word in our public vocabulary, after all, is the imperative "Resign!"

In the heated collective assault on Olmert, however, one thing has been forgotten: Even when the vision of bringing him down is fulfilled - a goal that, for some people, seems to have become the source of all meaning in life - the sky will not crack open and deliver a shining new leadership, purer or more effective. The justified concern with the current prime minister's conduct and personal failings only represses the fact that what we face is a general, ongoing trend: the attrition and undermining of any Israeli leader's very status and legitimacy.

In this sense, the supposed "glory days" of Ariel Sharon, which constituted a break in the continuum, were the exception that only proves the rule. The smooth-talking slyness, corruption, nepotism, secret funds, stagnation on the international front, military failures - all these were tolerated, even admired, in the emperor-like Sharon; but when even a hint of the same flaws was discovered in his two predecessors and in his present and future heirs, it became impossible to palate - and this regardless of the other leaders' talents, vision, accomplishments and actual performance.

Olmert came "honestly" by his diminished status, but what of those who will follow him? Already we can feel the hatred, terror and scorn seething, as a matter of habit, at the very thought of Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaul Mofaz or Tzipi Livni, not to mention Avi Dichter, as candidates for prime minister (and there are no others at the moment; wherever would they come from?).

Nowadays the very fact that a person becomes a candidate for leadership is already enough to submerge him or her in such a deluge of muck, mockery and attempted incrimination ("Tzipi Livni rented offices for tens of thousands of shekels!", a right-wing Website screamed, as though offices can be rented for tens of shekels) that one can easily imagine what will happen when that individual actually becomes prime minister.

Can we even imagine anymore that any Israeli prime minister - a native-born son or daughter, a reasonable, ordinary person, even a saint of pristine virtue - might manage to function as prime minister, create a broad political base, and ultimately touch on Israel's basic problems, from the settlements through the peace process to the relations of religion and state? This is highly doubtful. Perhaps what we see before us is a curse; maybe it is a conspiracy, and maybe it is simply a mirror. Israelis, being a community more than a nation, do not want an executive who gets results. They want a father to tell them a bedtime story.