The Yawn Is Gone

The public, confronted with one of the most soporific campaigns in history, has stopped yawning thanks to the media reports on Olmert.

It's early to say yet how the media reports and investigative write-up on Ehud Olmert in Haaretz's weekend magazine will affect the election campaign. But in one department, they have already chalked up a success. The public, confronted with one of the most soporific campaigns in Israeli history, has stopped yawning.

These elections are endowed with all the elements of personal and political drama you could want - the tragedy of Ariel Sharon lying in a coma, a political about-face triggered by the formation of a new ruling party, predictions of a landslide victory, a la "A Star is Born," guaranteed overnight. And yet, the campaign, until now, has been as dead as a doorknob.

Some say that the three-month interval until elections was too long. After the new political turf was divided up and the politicos played musical chairs, launching the Big Bang they had dreamed of for so long, the new three-bloc political map came into being. Surveys showed that, in principle, over 70 percent of the public feel that Israel should leave the bulk of the territories, even at the price of unilateral withdrawal, with or without an agreement. That also explains why attempts at mutual mudslinging and sarcastic slogans have not worked until now.

Likud election slogans like "Tough on Hamas - Only Netanyahu" and "The army gets in gear, Olmert chickens out in fear" have not caught on. Same goes for "Smolmert," a play on the Hebrew word "smol" (left) and Olmert's name. Kadima's response-- "Bibi's tough till the going gets rough" - was also a dud.

According to some, the campaign will heat up after the radio and television broadcasts begin. But there's no guarantee that the public won't go on snoozing in front of the TV screen as they watch these silly ads. Other people look forward to a televised debate between the three candidates. Except that Ehud Olmert will probably say no to such a contest. He's no pushover when it comes to debates, but he wouldn't want to stand up on a podium with his competitors and give them more exposure than they deserve.

Dr. Mina Tzemach's explanation for the lack of tension is the sense that Kadima is already slated to win by a large margin. Voter turnout is expected to be high, and there are fewer "floating" votes and undecided voters than in the past. In other words, most people have made up their minds already. Tzemach thinks there could be some migration in the Russian sector, in the direction of the National Union. Overall, the trend has not changed: 39-41 seats for Kadima, 14 for Likud and 18 for Labor. The feeling that Kadima, even without Sharon, will form the government, is so strong, it's only natural for the election campaign to be on low voltage.

With a bon vivant par excellence like Olmert at the top of the pyramid and a target for the settlers, it was only a matter of time before he got dragged down on the strength of some crooked episode or shady deal from the past. It started with his army service and graduated to the sale of his apartment for $2.7 million to Daniel Abrams, a warm American Jew who, as one of the owners of Slim Fast, a company that makes diet products, has not the slightest economic interest in Israel.

But transparency from a candidate proposing to lead Israel in one of the most politically and militarily sensitive periods the country has ever known is vital. Olmert has offered his own explanations for the apartment affair: "All the information has been on the state comptroller's desk for a year now."

But the actions of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss as the piece in Haaretz was about to appear are unfair and improper. The president of the Israel Democracy Institute, Prof. Arik Carmon, has harshly criticized the comptroller: "Making material public during an election campaign before the findings have been published constitutes intervention in the elections and an affront to democracy." Carmon adds that the practice of publicizing data before an investigation is complete and any conclusions have been reached, which has become a norm for the state comptroller, calls for a critical review of his work procedures, without any connection to the case being investigated.

The Greater Israel fanatics are rejoicing. Olmert is convinced that nothing will change. What we do know is that the coming month is not going to be sleepy. Kadima will win. For the voting public, the yawn is gone.