Saturday, August 02, 2008

"Benjamin Netanyahu's grotesque coalition..."

Well, this is the post that will piss off a few Jewish readers. Reading Bernard Avashai over the last few months has given me a glimpse inside Israeli politics I had not expected. Like most Americans I thought that Jewish public opinion about Israel here is an echo of the majority opinion in Israel. I know, of course, that there are Jewish military people who don't want anything to do with the manner in which Palestinians are treated, and that there are nut cases like me all over the world who prefer diplomacy to war as a means to conflict resolution.

It seems these attitudes are not as obscure in Israel as I thought. This post by Avashai tells me that the situation in Israel is quite different. This snapshot of Ehud Olmert's recent fall from grace (excuse, please, the Christian idiom) is more than politics as usual. Turns out he's not the Israeli Ted Stephens we might be led to believe. I come away from this post with the impression he is throwing himself on his sword, not for political self-interest, but the greater good of Israel.

Ehud Olmert's career has come to a sad end. He has announced that, in light of the continuing allegations against him, he'll step aside in September. This is a good thing for both the country and the peace process. He likely broke the law; he allowed rich foreign Jews to overindulge him too much. I have argued here before that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is the Israeli center's best hope for keeping Benjamin Netanyahu's grotesque coalition from power. A recent poll would seem to reinforce the point.

But people who've known Olmert over the years understand what a tragic result this is for a man of high intelligence, natural warmth, and genuine worldliness--in a way, the first Israeli prime minister who was cosmopolitan enough to see his country as others do. He was also a pro.

"I have to say I could never bring myself to dislike the guy," Ambassador Alvaro de Soto, the former UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and (since his resignation) a harsh critic of many aspects of Olmert's performance, wrote me earlier today: "He may have been a dismal commander-in-chief, but he articulated the depth of the challenge facing Israel with astonishing candor. When it becomes clear to all that Israel is becoming, in Tom Friedman's words, 'permanently pregnant with a stillborn Palestinian state in its belly,' people might recall that he told them so."

OLMERT'S GREATEST FAILURE was his inability to stand up to generals in the cabinet room after soldiers were kidnapped on the northern border in the summer of 2006; generals with contingency plans, maps and reassurances. Political professional that he was, he was loathe to be thought outside the consensus established by military professionals--also by outdated Zionist institutions, American Jewish moguls, and a tabloid press. He told some journalists after the Lebanon war that this was his Bay of Pigs, implying that he had been ensnared by an inherited security establishment. He said he would need three years for people to forget the debacle and credit his peace moves. Alas, he is no Jack Kennedy.

In preparing his book, The Hebrew Republic, Avashsi interviewed Olmert for forty-five minutes. (Link at the post) The interested reader is invited to take time to go there and listen.

As for me, I'm coming to the understanding that Jewish public opinion in America is not a perfect reflection of a democratically selected majority in Israel.

Do I need to connect any dots to help the reader grasp how this post puzzles together with the presidential election, and which of the candidates will be our best choice for US-Israel foreign policy?

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