I don't like Ehud Olmert. I didn't vote for him in the last election, and I disagree with almost everything he stands for politically. I am a member of a community that was bitterly disillusioned last August when the disengagement from Gush Katif was implemented - and I may suffer personally if his wish to implement another disengagement plan from Judea and Samaria goes through. But I was extremely pleased with his speech to the Knesset last night.
I was encouraged on two levels. One, that he saw the need to speak the way he did. There was an awareness that the war being waged now is being fought as much in the minds of Israelis as it is in the skies of Lebanon. The lesson has been learned that even if you are fighting a just war this justification has to verbalized, and is not a given. In a country as politically polarized as ours this step cannot be forgotten - and unfortunately has been in the past.
Two, the content of the speech was excellent. There were a few lines meant for international consumption, but most of it was tailored for us. He reminded us who we are - and except for some of the contemporary facts his speech could have been given by David Ben Gurion or Menachem Begin.
He spoke about the fact that we want peace, and will actively seek it - but that if we have to we will wage a fierce war in order to survive.
He touched on the fact that we are one big family. He mentioned the prayer that we say in the synagogue for the safety of IDF soldiers - and pointed out that it is not only said here in Israel but by Jews all over the world. He mentioned the names of the those killed by the rockets both in the north and in Sderot, and although they all came from different backgrounds, we identify with their mourning families.
Ehud Olmert also emphasized how much he thinks about the families of the kidnapped soldiers - which, of course, we all do too.
To end he quoted from the Tanach (the Bible) the famous lines about Rachel Imeinu (the matriarch Rachel) crying for her children and being comforted that her children will return to their borders (to Israel). This quote resonates in the Jewish heart and is symbolic on many levels. It strikes a deep chord with religious and non-religious alike because it reminds us of our shared, if ancient, Jewish mother. It symbolizes the national dream of the Jews returning to their homeland. And it also symbolizes our hope that the contemporary children - our kidnapped soldiers - will also return to us.
The speech was brilliantly written by a skillful speechwriter, and given forcefully by Olmert himself. I am skeptical enough to doubt that it shows a change in the man's politics - and perhaps he was just mouthing the words. But I am grateful that he said what he said - it was damn good to hear.