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Olmert’s Gaffe

Since the war began, Ehud Olmert has done a masterful job of keeping his mouth shut. We are just a few weeks before the election, an election that happened as the result of Olmert’s multiple police investigations compounded by his grandiose ineptitude in the 2006 war. Somehow, the Kadima government was successful in impressing people — and pretty much making us forget who was in charge.

Until last night.

Unfathomably, inconceivably, Olmert opened his mouth, and said some remarkably stupid things. The entire idea of the U.S. abstaining in the vote in the UN Security Council calling for a cease fire, it turns out, was his. Here‘s YNet’s report on what Olmert says he said to the President of the United States:

“I said: ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,’” Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. “They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care: ‘I need to talk to him now.’ He got off the podium and spoke to me.”

Olmert said he argued that the United States should not vote in favor, and the president then called Rice and told her not to do so. “She was left pretty embarrassed,” Olmert said.

But the quotes don’t do the gaffe justice. I saw it on the news last night. The body language, the cheesy little-boy grin: a truly remarkable display of old-style Israeli machoistic baloney. Predictably, the State Department is beside itself. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Olmert’s remarks “are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation, just 100%, totally, completely not true.” It’s not a risky bet to assume McCormack is right. The story is just implausible.

Whatever you say about the State Department, all in all the Bush Administration has remained remarkably consistent in its support of Israel — more so even than the Reagan Administration, which in its last years recognized the PLO. To give Bush and Secretary Rice this kind of last-minute kick in the pants was remarkably inelegant.

Israeli voters are unlikely to take this kindly. The biggest victim is Tzipi Livni, who has done everything she can to bury Olmert in order to maximize her party’s chances of re-election. Just in case we had forgotten why we’re having elections in the first place…


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