One of the most memorable political cartoons I recall from my youth is of Yogi Berra and Nikita Khrushchev, depicted from behind, walking off together. In 1964, within a short time of each other, Berra was fired as manager of the New York Yankees and Khrushchev was deposed as boss of the Soviet Union.
There was nothing to dislike about Yogi Berra but Khrushchev had to be viewed with mixed feelings: a welcome relief from the murderous rule of Stalin but very incomplete as a reformer. He can be remembered as a butcher of Hungarian freedom fighters and a Cold War adventurer who brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe over Cuba before prudently backing off.
Both Khrushchev and Olmert were opportunistic career political operatives, who worked their way up and came to represent change but ultimately failed. Some of their failure may have had to do with defects of character, but much also with overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. We have to remember them wistfully – of what might have been if they had been bolder, more proficient or luckier.
M. J. Rosenberg’s generous view of Olmert, expressed in his latest Israel Policy Forum essay, is in contrast to this scathing piece by Uri Avnery, the radical Israeli peacenik.
Probably Rosenberg is overly generous and Avnery, as usual, is overly critical, but Olmert’s tenure as prime minister was a terrible disappointment and we have to keep hoping for an unexpected miracle on the diplomatic front to make Israel’s situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Iran look other than grim. We also need to hope that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni can defeat the more clearly hawkish Shaul Mofaz in September’s Kadima party leadership primary and then manage the formidable task of holding together a governing coalition as the new prime minister or fend off Likud’s Bibi Netanyahu in elections early next year.
Being Israeli prime minister for a politician who actually wants to accomplish something positive is a thankless job because of the coalition system. It is not like being president. But if one is interested mainly in being a “jobnik”–career opportunist it can have its rewards. Guess which type of person is increasingly attracted to the job?