Tzipi the Knife

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's response was unusual: She is keeping her distance from Olmert and has not joined her colleagues.

Many years ago, in the Knesset dining room, minister Shimon Peres was trying to decide how to squeeze both a meeting in Ashkelon with party activists and a crucial soccer game at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv into his busy schedule. "Maybe I'll pop over for the first half of the game, and then I'll run down to the rally in Ashkelon," he thought out loud. Yossi Sarid, who had no love lost for Peres even at that time, was gallant enough to give him a good piece of advice: "If you don't want to look ridiculous, you'd better give up the game altogether; nobody will believe that you're interested in soccer if you come to the stadium and leave after the first half."

The field of public relations has changed enormously since then. It has become immeasurably more sophisticated, with its impact on the public deeper than ever before. But this craft's foundations remain as they were: pretending, staging situations and creating presentations that do not necessarily correspond to reality. PR's thoroughness can be seen in the campaign by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's people to improve his image and stabilize his position after the blow he took with the release of the report on the latest police investigation.

In a well-orchestrated manner, the prime minister's supporters in Kadima immediately held a rally; at public events, his fans sit up front and shower him with hugs and kisses; the cabinet ministers from his party meet for a pep talk and then appear before the cameras and microphones to express their faith in the prime minister, repeating the message his advisers seem to have dictated: Nothing has happened that obliges the prime minister to resign or step aside; the investigation should be allowed to take its course.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's response was unusual: She is keeping her distance from Olmert and has not joined her colleagues. Livni, it seems, has her own opinion on Olmert's circumstances, and she is showing it in her behavior. She makes do with expressing confidence in the law-enforcement authorities while maintaining her political right to keep silent. From her choice not to speak out on the bribery affair ascribed to Olmert, her reservations can be felt about Olmert's very entanglement in a confidential relationship with Morris Talansky. This is a kind of restrained, elegant statement by Livni on what she feels is proper and improper for a public figure, while keeping to the rules of the game and a reasonable working relationship with the prime minister.

But Olmert's people are not holding back; Livni's response has made them angry. They muttered a warning to the press that Olmert will pay her back, and made clear that he sees her conduct as treacherous. "Tzipi the Knife," they call her, depicting her as plotting to take advantage of the prime minister's predicament to undermine and supplant him.

Livni, it should be said, is no great hero. She was silent in the face of the police investigation into Ariel Sharon's dubious conduct in the Cyril Kern and Greek island affairs; she did not assert a moral position when the previous investigations against Olmert were going on; and she did not bang on the table during the Second Lebanon War, although her analyses and recommendations were more correct than those the prime minister adopted. She did dare to call on him to resign after the interim Winograd Report, but she took no practical step to bring this about, and made her peace when her stance disintegrated.

In short, the foreign minister is no political Hercules. It is precisely because of the limitations of her personality, her cautious character and avoidance of taking risks that she is to be admired for taking an independent stance now. She communicates her reservations about the prime minister's alleged conduct, she subscribes to the saying that "a man is known by the company he keeps," and signals that she is uncomfortable in his presence. She draws a line that applies moral judgment to the political arena. And amazingly, she is the most popular minister in Kadima. Her colleagues should take notice.