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Newsletter 22: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert


Our new government got on its way on Sunday, with a brand new prime minister and 25 new cabinet ministers.

Very few people in Israel know any of these people personally but since they represent the 4 political parties who received the majority of the votes (Kadimah, Labor, Shas and the pensioners), one could say that most of the nation voted for them.

The closest any of us will ever get to know these ministers is through dealings with their ministries and the publicity they receive in the media.

Now with this scant bit of knowledge Israelis are being asked and are asking themselves what they think of the new government.

When asked this question after Sharon's election, Begin, Rabin or even Shimon Peres and certainly Ben Gurion, in spite of their meager personal knowledge of these people, everybody had an opinion.

Opinions ranged from great enthusiasm to great disappointment. One person said there would be war, another said there would be peace, someone else said now the economy is going to flourish and someone else said it's all going down the drain. Opinions, opinions, opinions and more opinions.

Today, all of a sudden, as it were, nobody has an opinion. This is certainly the quietest entrance into the arena of public affairs any government has ever made.

The only opinion expressed was by someone in Perez's Labor Party that Olmert's government won't last more than two years. And this is more of a hope than an opinion that the government will soon fall, there will be new elections and Peretz will soon have another opportunity to try and bring victory for Labor.

I had a very good opinion about Sharon and now I have a very good opinion of Olmert.

My opinion of Sharon that he was a brave, pragmatic leader with a vision was based on reading and observing his leadership over a period of about thirty years.

My opinion of Olmert is based on only one meeting in his office as mayor of Jerusalem, when I took a group of students there, about 5 years ago during the height of the intifada, after an Israeli had been injured in an Arab attack.

Olmert explained the difference between a serious wound, a mild to serious injury and a light injury.

These are terms used by the media to describe the gravity of a person's injury. They leave us with a feeling of relief that the person is still alive and will recover from his injury.

Instead of putting us at ease with a false impression that everything would be okay with the injured person and the situation in general, he painted a clear picture of the suffering of even the most mildly injured person and the seriousness of the situation.

Then I understood that Olmert isn't one who lives in illusions but sees the situation exactly as it really is. He isn't a hero, like Sharon and he's not out to have a government of heroes.

Olmert demonstrated how consistently he applies this approach, of clarity and directness, by beginning the first cabinet meeting with one terse rule, namely ministers are to keep discussions brief, to the point and to stick to matters concerning only their offices.

In its first week in office Olmert's government is showing itself to be like him, namely very quiet but highly active.

Circumspection and theories of what the government is talking about and what it's going or not going to do, has been replaced in the media by reports of real events.

Only after one week the newspapers are full of events such as an agreement by settlers to willingly dismantle illegal settlements, removal by the police of settlers from an Arab house in Hebron, an Israeli air strike at a Hamas base for training their soldiers in rocket launching, the permission for more Palestinians to enter Israel to find work, presentation of a law to regulate the citizenship of foreign worker's children born in Israel and more.

A German tourist reminded me, yesterday of a wise saying which is very applicable in Israel today:

In silence lies strength.

Perhaps it's only a hope, but I really think that we're on a new road of normalcy, less fluster and buster and more quiet, clear and strong action.

Here's wishing you a great no news day. Leon.

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