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Will Olmert government fall in Israel?

By Eric Ruder | May 11, 2007 | Page 16

SOME 100,000 protesters flooded Rabin Square in the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv in early May to call for the ouster of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but after surviving three no-confidence votes in parliament a few days later, it appeared that Olmert would hang on.

Olmert has suffered single-digit approval ratings and calls for his resignation since the partial release of a report by the Winograd Commission, which investigated the causes of Israel's humiliating defeat by Hezbollah during Israel's invasion of Lebanon last summer.

The commission didn't focus on the war crimes that Israel committed in launching a war that forced one-quarter of the Lebanese population to flee their homes, but rather on Israel's embarrassment at failing to achieve its goal of crushing Hezbollah.

The panel's criticism was directed at Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. Peretz has already announced he'll step down from his post after Israel's Labor Party, which he currently leads, holds a May 28 leadership election, which Peretz is expected to lose. Halutz already heeded the many calls to resign.

However, Olmert seems determined to carry on despite the Winograd Commission's blunt condemnations. The commission's preliminary findings were that Olmert "made up his mind hastily" in launching the war on Lebanon, and he was guilty of "a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence." The full report will be issued in August.

Israel's brutal war on Lebanon killed more than 1,000 people--the vast majority of them civilians--flattened huge sections of densely populated southern Beirut and severely damaged many smaller towns in southern Lebanon. In absorbing the Israeli onslaught, Hezbollah killed some 119 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians.

Israel not only suffered a stunning defeat, but a blow to its image of invincibility because it has the region's best-equipped military.

The primary reason Olmert survived thus far is the lack of agreement among the many currents calling for his ouster. The Rabin Square protest, for example, was organized by 11 different political parties, but no politician was invited to address the crowd for fear that this would offend the others.

"There were people from the left and right, religious and secularists, Orientals and Ashkenazim, settlers and peace activists, young (many young) and elderly," left commentator Uri Avnery wrote of the rally.

"At one point, I passed [Israeli parliament member] Effi Eitam, whom I consider the No. 1 fascist in Israel, and who may well consider me the No. 1 Destroyer of Israel. We ignored each other, but we were both there."

Nevertheless, the vast majority of the anti-Olmert forces don't question that Israel had the right to invade Lebanon with the full power of its military. What they lament is that it failed to produce the desired result--the liquidation of Hezbollah, which has long resisted Israel's attempt to impose its will on Lebanon.

Mainstream media reports, especially in the U.S., heralded the protest as a sign of "the health of [Israel's] democracy," in the words of Time magazine--a particularly inappropriate claim coming at the same time that Israel has announced charges against Azmi Bishara, the most prominent leader of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, of aiding the enemy during the Lebanon fiasco.

For years, the Israeli government has hounded Bishara, even though he is a member of the Knesset. The charges, which are punishable by life imprisonment and even the death penalty, have forced Bishara into exile while he fights to prove his innocence.

But in the eyes of the Israeli establishment, he's already guilty for denying that Israel can be a democracy unless it becomes a state of all its citizens. Israel defines itself as Jewish state, consigning the 20 percent of the population that is Palestinian to second-class status.

Regardless of how the current leadership crisis shakes out, one thing is certain--Israeli apartheid will remain, whether Olmert stays or goes.

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