It's All About Character

Bush or no Bush, Abu Mazen or no Abu Mazen, Olmert will be remembered mainly as a great traveler, as the Benjamin of Tudela of first class.

How ironic that the announcement of an indictment against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert caught him immediately upon his return from a trans-Atlantic trip. The last one, perhaps superfluous like the others, which he managed to drum up for himself toward the end of his term. And no less ironic is the fact that the indictment focuses on Rishon Tours - the embarkation point of that same worldwide travel initiative, which threatens to dwarf any other legacy of Olmert's. Bush or no Bush, Abu Mazen or no Abu Mazen, Olmert will be remembered mainly as a great traveler, as the Benjamin of Tudela of first class.

As though to teach us that "the fault is not in our fate, but in ourselves," what began as a kind of piquant feature in the local Jerusalem newspaper Kol Ha'ir to track Olmert's endless trips and stays abroad - partly out of amazement and partly out of horror - grew and formed tendrils, and in the end wrapped itself around Olmert and led to his downfall.

But it's not the trips and the excesses in themselves (the late Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek also enjoyed a good cigar, and others also loved flying) as it is what they revealed, without any relation to Olmert's vision or his other abilities: the gluttony, the petty manipulations, and mainly the defiant arrogance.

Every Israeli politician carries within him a time bomb when he enters the halls of power and authority: his unique temperament, his weaknesses, his character flaws. Everything that annoyed, or even amused, those around him when he was a private citizen blows up to monstrous proportions when he is situated at the center of power and in the public eye (especially if he doesn't chalk up great accomplishments). Every flaw becomes a scab and every scab opens when its time comes; the personality mechanism ticks like a clock and finally explodes on its owner. In other words, in the final analysis, beyond all the abilities and the political viewpoints, everything was and is a matter of character.

During these days following the election of Barack Obama, the American media are devoting a great deal of attention to precisely this question: the character of the leader, his temperament and his personality as a basis for making predictions about his term in office. The Internet magazine Slate classified and psychologically analyzed the personalities of the presidential candidates with Jungian eyes and came up with an Obama who is extroverted, intuitive, feeling and quick to understand. An idealist who believes in the power of words, but will become restless with routine.

Time Magazine surveyed the temperaments of past American presidents and concluded that it was "more about music than lyrics." The conclusion: Success depends on traits such as balance, a sense of proportion, maturity, flexibility of thinking and insight. And in times of crisis, there is nothing more important than the leader's temperament, his having enough self confidence to surround himself (as did Franklin D. Roosevelt) with opinionated people who were not yes-men, his ability to be upbeat, his optimism and his integrity.

In Israel, the discussion of the personality and temperament of the candidate is considered a luxury or a sign of lack of taste. Thus we have remained without a satisfying explanation of enigmas such as the public "credibility" of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, of all people, as compared to the chronic "lack of credibility" of Shimon Peres. Or the present popularity of Benjamin Netanyahu as compared to the nadir to which Ehud Barak has sunk, in spite of the record of failure and the "problematic nature" common to both, and despite all the differences in stature.

But there is apparently something about personality, the same "Something" The Beatles sang about: something in their style, something in the way they move, that reveals the true nature of leaders in spite of the make-up and beyond all the fine words that the public relations experts put into their mouths.

Therefore, let none of the candidates smile and rejoice at Olmert's downfall. The really amazing thing is the illusion of the politicians (and as it turns out, of Olmert as well) that simply joining the government, not to mention entering the Prime Minister's Office, constitutes the Israeli equivalent of the Christian institution of absolution. That every manifestation of their sins, their shortcomings and their character flaws will be erased the moment they receive extra security, meet with world leaders, deliver a nice speech or smile with a Palestinian leader. But as has been proven repeatedly, the opposite is the case. Every one of them will come to office with his own personality and his own character flaws. And he would do well to think twice, because his defects will wrap themselves around him and trail after him like toilet paper sticking to a shoe, no matter how highly polished it is. They will mock his pretensions, and in the end will trip him up as well.