The Man Without Substance

Although Olmert is a good guy and a good friend, he does not belong in the Prime Minister's Office. Two more critical years of Olmert at the helm means a dangerous gamble.

Ehud Olmert has many good qualities. The prime minister is a good friend to his comrades, a devoted father to his children, and is loyal to his followers. He is not brilliant, but he is intelligent. He is not profound, but he is pragmatic. Energetic, diligent and levelheaded. Olmert has many of the traits required of a decision maker. He also has a virtuoso ability to create networks of power, reinforce them and activate them in times of need.

Olmert is a gifted and multifaceted politician. He knows how to be charming and how to be threatening, to play a man of the world but also to relate to ordinary people. It is doubtful if there is anyone in Israel with more connections. It is doubtful if there is anyone like him who knows how to woo the powerful and pal around with criminals.

And nevertheless, the prime minister has one shortcoming that overshadows all his good qualities: The man lacks substance. He has no worldview and no overall picture of reality. He has no ethical foundations and no structural principles. Olmert has no core. He has no Tablets of Stone. In the most profound sense, he does not know where he came from and where he is going. That is why today he can say the opposite of what he said yesterday, without batting an eyelash.

Nor does he have any difficulty saying one thing and doing another. Since he is guided by litigation rather than the truth, the prime minister is capable of changing his skin and changing his policy like a chameleon. That is why he is a serial exploiter of opportunities and a brilliant survivor, but a hopeless shaper of reality.

As a captain without direction and without a compass, Olmert stretches his opportunism to the absurd and his pragmatism to the point of losing the way. He arouses passions and engages in sleight of hand and is occasionally hypnotic, but in his 40 years in politics he has not left any mark. Even in his two years as prime minister he has not done anything genuine.

These were two important years during which Israel's prime minister was supposed to strengthen the country before the major historic test of the end of the decade. During these years he was supposed to pursue peace and prepare for war. To prepare the ground for dividing the country and prepare people's hearts for a struggle for the country. To stop Iran, test Syria and exhaust Hamas. To establish Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic nation state. To restore to Israel the qualities of a country characterized by excellence. To rehabilitate statesmanship and renew meaningfulness. To provide the state with diplomatic tools, national pride and a sense of direction.

Olmert did none of this. He promised convergence, and changed his mind. He promised an end to the conflict, and disappointed us. He failed in the Second Lebanon War and failed to understand its significance. He did something, but not enough, on the crucial issue of Iran. He is losing precious time before entering negotiations with Syria, he did not formulate an overall and consistent strategy vis-a-vis Hamas and did not prepare the country for a future evacuation of the settlements. He did not spur the nation to stand behind the Israel Defense Forces and strengthen them.

So as far as foreign affairs and security are concerned, the prime minister has stagnated over the past two years. But as far as domestic affairs and society are concerned, Olmert caused tremendous damage. He did not carry out the necessary revolution in the school system. He brought about a destructive revolution in the justice system, surrendered unconditionally to Shas, encouraged centralization in the economy and accepted the widening gaps in society. Under Olmert, Israel has become a reckless country that abandons the weak and helpless. Mutual responsibility has been eroded, social justice has been trampled. Corruption has become widespread.

In another country or another period it may have been possible to be more forgiving of the failures of the 12th prime minister. After all, he is still a neophyte. Maybe he will learn. Look, according to foreign sources, he has learned how to make decisions in the area of national security. According to economic sources, he is leading the economy in a reasonable manner. Not everything is black. Nor have the worrisome suspicions of personal corruption been proven.

But in this country in this period being forgiving toward the government is a luxury. Israel today needs excellence in every area; most of all in the area of leadership. Olmert lacks this excellence. Nor will he ever have it. Even if he makes an effort to rehabilitate himself, a person without substance cannot rehabilitate what he does not have in himself. A person without a core cannot navigate toward peace and cannot withstand a war. A person without moral authority cannot be a leader in a time of trial.

Therefore, although Olmert is a good guy and a good friend, he does not belong in the Prime Minister's Office. Two more critical years of Olmert at the helm means a dangerous gamble.