It's All Personal

The only unequivocal aspect of the Shalit story is the grotesque manner in which responsibility for failing to gain his release has been passed on to the family.

"We are all guilty," president Ephraim Katzir decreed after the Yom Kippur War debacle. Thirty-five years later, this collective guilt has been replaced by a string of wholesale and personal accusations against civilians, as politicians lay the blame for the state's failures at their feet.

Both schools of thought share one common denominator: They both seek to absolve politicians from their responsibilities, passing the buck on to somebody else. Be it the collective, or an individual, or a group of reservists returning from a failed war or the family of a soldier still in captivity, everything goes. It?s all personal.

Most recently this accusation was hurled at visitors to the Shalit family's protest tent across from the Prime Minister's Residence in Jersualem, and even at the abducted soldier's parents. The media cite "senior officials" whose anonymous voices slip through the cabinet meetings, blaming the demonstrators and the parents for subverting the prisoner swap deal for Shalit's return. Because of them, Hamas dug in its heels, because of them the price for the deal went up. In other words, Gilad's parents are personally responsible for the fact that their son is still rotting in captivity.

The debate over obtaining Shalit's release "at any price" is a legitimate argument that has no single, unequivocal solution. The only unequivocal aspect of this story is the grotesque manner in which responsibility for the crisis and for failing to gain his release has been passed on to the family. Not only is this tantamount to emotional abuse, it is a blatant abdication of responsibility - not responsibility for the failure to return Shalit, but the responsibility demanded from a leader to make courageous decisions and stand behind them.

The "senior officials" who say responsibility lies with the parents feel, justifiably, that the public campaign to free Shalit was aimed at them personally and that its widespread support is the interest they are paying from the public's feelings of abandonment dating back to the Second Lebanon War. Shalit is the embodiment of all those who were left to their own devices as the missiles rained down - those whose needs were not met through the use of force. The betrayed leadership is now returning fire.

Such casting of blame is nothing new for the Olmert government. During the height of the reservists' protests after the war, they awoke one morning to a newspaper headline that blared: "If the company commanders had fought the war with the determination with which they are fighting Olmert, the outcome of the war would have been different." The quotes were attributed to "associates" of the prime minister. The officers, who endured firsthand the failures of the war later spelled out in the Winograd Report, were in shock.

It was legitimate, if not always correct, to accuse the protesters of politicizing their message. It was not legitimate to translate the prime minister's personal sense of indignation into a public humiliation of soldiers he sent to the battlefield. Just as it is illegitimate to blame Aviva and Noam Shalit for sabotaging the return of their son in order to cover for the inability to establish public norms, be they what they may.

The transition from "we are all guilty" to attaching a name and serial number to every guilty party is an expression of the privatization of Israeli society. The passage from a collective society to a collection of individuals came together with the change to the direct election of the prime minister. Although this was abolished, it left behind a culture and reality of individual choice. Even when the parties collapsed and the ideologies were muddled, the political and public domain has remained as personal as ever. There is no longer a buffer zone between voters and elected officials. When not only the election, but also the failure to be re-elected becomes personal, the voters become legitimate targets for personal assault by the elected officials.

This is not equal opportunity but rather a distortion of the concept of leadership, one which began before Ehud Olmert but which he brought to new heights. The only difference is that to us it is permitted. Not them.