Taking Stock / Why Olmert Must Go

The 10:00 a.m. news report on Thursday started with a story about the letter Yemen's president sent to President Bush, continued with a story about a traffic accident in the center of the country, and ended with a longer-than-usual report on the serious disagreements in Singapore over whether the zoo should continue raising its polar bear.

The arctic bears are having a very hard time with the tropical climate, and animal rights organizations are demanding that the bear be moved to a zoo in friendlier climes. It was decided a year ago to transfer the animal, but recently the zoo's management chose to keep it. The biggest circulation English-language paper in Singapore, The Straits Times, conducted a large survey and discovered that 67 percent of the people favored leaving the bear.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his staff and close confidantes - and everyone who is connected to the teat of the current government - certainly breathed a sigh of relief after the 10 o'clock news on the Voice of Israel.

If only two days after one of the most serious reports ever on an Israeli government the editors could not - or did not want to - find an item on the matter worth being broadcast, then apathy and not Israeli patriotism is likely to be the best refuge of those disgusting people in power.

After all, it really wasn't necessary to wait for the Winograd report to know that Olmert is not fit to be prime minister.

We did not need to wait to read in the report that Olmert was hasty, acted without proper judgment and was led into things to know that Olmert is the very last type of leader Israel needs today.

We did not need to wait for the long list of investigations into corruption and unethical behavior to know that in January last year a money- and real estate-loving lawyer took over - someone who particularly loves his rich friends.

We did not need to see the long line of suspects and interogatees that reached a peak under Olmert to feel that the State of Israel is gradually being transferred to the hands of cynical gangs with a low standard of management and leadership.

We did not need to wait because all this evil and disease did not start with Olmert, and not even with Sharon. They only brought it to a new level.

So why do we want Olmert to quit and the Knesset to be dissolved now? For one simple reason: the opportunity exists.

The Israeli public has been apathetic for many years to the collapse of Israeli governance. Apathetic to corruption, apathetic to the enrichment of cronies at the public's expense, and apathetic to the deterioration of the management of the public sector.

The numerous corruption affairs involving the government, and the Winograd report on the leadership's failures in a war that needlessly cost the lives of 163 soldiers and civilians is a rare opportunity to make a change, to clean out the vast amount of disgusting material that has built up in the diseased body of Israeli governance for many years.

Many Israelis feel disgusted, disappointed and helpless in light of the recent events, and are asking themselves: So if Olmert goes, what's the alternative?

Ehud Barak? That impenetrable man who failed at the peace process and has been infected in recent years by the virus of getting rich quick?

Or maybe Benjamin Netanyahu? His tenure as prime minister has not been forgotten.

Ami Ayalon? He's another retired general with many question marks about his abilities.

But the question of who will replace Ehud Olmert as prime minister is irrelevant and unimportant.

The leadership vacuum in Israel, the dismal group of leaders that arose here in recent years, stems from the fact that not one of our corrupt or failed leaders has been forced to pay the price for his failures.

Even if all the investigations into the prime minister by the police, the attorney general and the state comptroller end without a criminal conviction, it's clear that the man's morals are deficient, just like his predecessor Ariel Sharon.

Real leadership will never grow in Israel and the decaying culture of governance will never change as long as our corrupt and failed leaders continue to sit comfortably in their exalted positions - even after they are caught out.

The way to change the Israel's culture of governance, and possibly the way to change the system of government, must be through a crisis, a change, a historic event.

Huge public pressure on the prime minister to resign due to his failures in the Second Lebanon War is the chance to send a message to everyone in politics and government - and to everyone who wants to be there: there is reward and punishment.

Every day of Olmert - the cynical, failed chief suspect, the serial exoneree - in power strengthens the rotten political and governing culture that has taken root here.

Only when leaders of Olmert's ilk and cabinets like the current one are forced out will we have a chance to see a change in Israel's culture of governance.

Only through their ouster and the accompanying crisis can the seeds of worthy future leaders and politicians sprout.

In a town in the Diaspora the citizens continued to re-elect a mayor who had disappointed them, harmed them and impoverished them "because we already know this son of a bitch."

We know the man who is leading the country and a number of those who want to replace him.

But if we do not oust him from his job now, if we do not spit him up, we will be left once again with the same team of bastards from which we will have to choose every four years.