return to tel aviv
Milan to Mumbai has taken about a month's break while I have recovered from my China trip and embarked upon my first political race, a campaign for the School Board in suburban Pa., about which more later. Hope all your changes have been for the better.
One thing that hasn't changed much is Israeli politics. Your correspondent was privileged yesterday evening to attend a rally of 100,000 plus Israelis in Rabin Square calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; Defense Minister Amir Peretz; and, by implication, just about everyone else in the Government [the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, already resigned.] The rally followed the interim findings of the Winograd Commission, which is studying what is now called the Second Lebanon War, and basically found that Olmert and his associates were incompetent and reckless in their conduct of the war. (Many of the same findings were included in my own columns of last August, but this hardly occasions much satisfaction.) Parents of soldiers killed in Lebanon, together with reservists and others, played a prominent role in the anti-Olmert rally; politicians were de-emphasized.
Since Olmert was at less than 5 percent in the polls before the findings--and since the final Winograd report will likely be even worse--one would think his future in politics would be dubious at best. His best defense may be the alternatives. While protesters carried signs calling for "Elections Now" (a play on the old "Peace Now" movement) and "you failed; now go home," the likelihood is that elections would return hard-liner Binyamin Netanyahu rather than a peace candidate to office, a fact which gave the rally--part political demonstration, part commemoration of the dead, and part national stock-taking--a curiously unfocused quality. One had the chance that the prostesters would sooner or later be rid of Olmert, but what would replace him was far from clear.
More focused, if less ambitious in scope, is the ongoing student protest which has shut down Israeli universities for several weeks at this writing. (One reason I have time to write is that one of my appointments was cancelled, and nearly all three.) The sight of students in red shirts congregating at the gates of a university brought to mind the Sixties and early Seventies, although the shirts turned out to bear the rather mild message "Olmert, higher education is not real estate"--a reference to efforts to privatize universities and other institutions but also an indirect jab at Olmert's history of dubious personal transactions. The universities have threatened to deny credits to students who don't return to class Sunday; student leaders have vowed to barricade the campuses--less difficult in Israel than elsewhere since security concerns mean most entrances are barricaded anyway--in reply. It should be an interesting weekend.