The time has come to apologize to the old lady, former Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was slammed and vilified in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. A generation later and following the Second Lebanon War we should reassess her personality and leadership, and this assessment requires us to offer a deep apology.
Golda Meir headed what may have been the most impressive government we ever had. Yigal Alon was her deputy and minister of education, Moshe Dayan served as defense minister, Pinhas Sapir was finance minister, Abba Eban was foreign minister, and Yitzhak Rabin was labor minister. Yes, Shimon Peres also served in this government.
There is no doubt that compared to the cabinet we have today, it was a government of giants. That government, even though it managed the Yom Kippur War, again earned the trust of the public in the ensuing elections, in December 1973, with Labor winning 51 Knesset seats. Moreover, the Agranat commission's interim report, submitted in April 1974, cleared Golda and Dayan of personal responsibility for the war failures.
Hence, Golda had all the political, democratic, and legal reinforcements needed in order to remain in office. And still, 11 days after being cleared by the Agranat Commission, she announced her as well as the government's resignation. Why? Because she understood what it means to have leadership that draws its power and trust from the people and was attentive to the people's voice. Therefore, when she sensed she lost the source of her true power, she quit.
This was an impressive display of real leadership that we did not appreciate at the time, yet it is easy to respect and cherish it today, when we are headed by a grey, uninspiring government that was elected in a different era, failed the test of war, did not seek to again win the people's trust. This government is now clinging to office in the face of all the criticism and protest from below.
We should be comparing Golda's noble conduct to that of our current prime minister in order to grasp the extent of the difference between then and now. Those who carefully listened to Olmert's "I know I'm not popular" speech could sense his deep contempt to the people. He draws his power from the group of advertising executives and PR experts around him – those who deceive the people and believe they are a herd that merely needs money and advertising tricks in order to lean to the desired direction.
No leadership alternative
There is only one difference that we should be familiar with: Then, following the Yom Kippur War, thousands of people hit the streets in protest. This time around, there are only a few protestors out there. Perhaps this is because the environment has become more virtual and people express their anger on the Internet and through e-mail.
However, there may be another reason – back then, when the protestors called on Golda and Dayan to quit they knew that behind them a second layer of ready and worthy leaders was waiting to take office. First came Rabin and Peres, while Menachem Begin waited just around the corner.
This time around, even if we search high and low, there is no leadership alternative, and the most the political system can offer us is the recycling of Netanyahu and Barak. Perhaps, and this is the true danger, the process undergone by the political system was also transferred to the people, and from a proud and responsible public we became a fatigued and alienated group willing to follow anyone who promises us bread and amusement.
We shall find out the answer to this difficult question soon. The current government failed miserably, and every day it remains in office is a shame for the people. If the Winograd Commission fails to topple it, the people will have to go out and topple it, as they did following the Yom Kippur War. Yet if the people fail to do that, it will be a sign that we deserve this government, and we shall all pay the price – rightfully so.
However, the toppling of the government is not the end of the road, but rather, only the beginning. The process we are seeing is the decline of the political system. Olmert is the third member of his generation who was placed at the head of the government and utterly failed within a short period of time. As it turns out, this is not about isolated cases, but rather, a phenomenon whose trademark is the loss of the ability to maintain a national leadership.
The political system is not only characterized by hollow leadership, but also the inability to undergo a process of renewal. Kadima was apparently the latest attempt to offer the people new hope, but that too was no more than an illusion.
Experienced and crafty politicians joined forces, established a party, and promised to leave all the cheaters and swindlers in the old parties. Yet just like any case of deceit and trickery, its life span is short – and as it turned out, we're talking about the same old story under a different guise.
Under such circumstances there is no chance for hope or success regarding the current political system. The other questions that we still need to clarify are these: Is it only the politicians who declined, or also the people? Is there another way to find a leadership that will demonstrate justice, integrity, and wisdom? Our future is found in the answers to these questions.
Colonel (Res.) Dr. Hasdai is a historian and jurist