What They Mean When They Say?

As a public service, this is a reader for understanding the meaning of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's and Labor Chair Ehud Barak's recent remarks.

As a public service, this is a reader for understanding the meaning of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's and Labor Chair Ehud Barak's recent remarks.

"I did not come here this evening to argue with or confront my political adversaries" (Olmert at the Knesset on Monday). Meaning: With the exception of Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu, or anyone else who may be critical of my performance.

"All the security experts recommended a significant Israeli counterstrike, and the government voted unanimously, without reservations or abstentions, to instruct the Israel Defense Forces to take action" (Olmert, also at the Knesset). Meaning: This is what I mean when I take upon myself supreme responsibility for all the war's failures, and declare that I never sought to evade that responsibility.

"Following the war, there was criticism from various quarters who claimed that a quick end to the war was avoided" (Olmert). Meaning: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni may have proposed bringing the war to an end two days after it started, and a handful of journalists proposed to do so after a week, but who gives a hoot about them?

"I am not here to settle accounts with individuals or groups about the deterioration that took place over the years, about things that weren't dealt with, that which was neglected, cuts, changes to the IDF nomenclature" (Olmert). Meaning: This is the meaning of my tight embrace of the IDF.

"I take full responsibility" (Olmert). Meaning: For my performance from here on, just as I have for my performance to date.

"IDF fighters, all of them, exhibited exceptional courage and daring in the fighting" (Olmert). Meaning: The things my associates are saying (the ones quoted saying that had the platoon and battalion commanders fought as they should have, the war would have ended in victory) are no longer valid; henceforth, I am bound by the things I say publicly (and when these too do not suit me, I revert to saying that I take supreme responsibility).

"We have long since forgotten what it is to be patient, and even more so to demonstrate tolerance. I have also had a part in this atmosphere in various times, other times, in my public life" (Olmert). Meaning: The assault on Netanyahu, which I am about to begin in the next paragraph of my address, belongs to a different era.

"At the end of the war, I proposed, along with the defense minister, the appointment of a committee of inquiry" (Olmert). Meaning: My original opposition to an examination of the war was an illusion, a mistake in the public's memory.

"The Winograd Report is a tough one, and its conclusions require that individuals reach their own conclusions" (Ehud Barak, declaring his intention to quit the government, at Kibbutz Sdot Yam last May). Meaning: Later.

"I will take action to formulate broad agreement across party lines for setting an agreed-upon date for a Knesset election" (Barak, at Sdot Yam). Meaning: So long as it is not before 2010.

"Only a leadership benefiting from the full trust of the public can lead the public" (Barak, Sdot Yam). Meaning: Full is also empty and also partial.

"I promised to do what I think" (Barak, this week). Meaning: I think I want to stay on as defense minister.

As a service to the prime minister and the defense minister, here, in translation and in clear language, is what the public thinks: National leadership is not acquired only through the power of political tricks or by parliamentary arithmetic; the authority of the leaders of a state is drawn from their personal behavior and the trust that is bestowed on them by the citizens. The way the politicians are dealing with the Second Lebanon War and its results may harm the country in its most sensitive areas. It is not self-evident that during the next emergency, soldiers will rush to the battlefield, willing to sacrifice themselves, after they have seen how the prime minister evades answering to the public for his failed performance in the summer of 2006, and how the defense minister backs him for selfish-political reasons.

Moreover, both Olmert and Barak mentioned in their recent statements the need to bolster values - a demand they themselves did not carry out. Their responses to the Lebanon war can be expected to only exacerbate the public's lack of trust in their leaders and the effectiveness of the existing political system, as well as strengthen the public's tendency to evade its civil responsibility of participating in elections.