No wonder Olmert isnt very well liked by Israelis

With Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approval rating dropping to single digits, there’s a joke gaining popularity in Israel.

Israelis say that when pollsters take into account a margin of error, Olmert’s approval ratings fall into the negative.

It doesn’t take long to see why Olmert’s popularity is virtually non-existent. It was evident in the first few minutes of a meeting he had with a group of American Jewish journalists, including this writer.

We were ushered last week into a conference room outside his office, where we were briefed on the rules. He can’t be quoted directly. In other words, we can report that the prime minister says that the sky is blue — we just can’t put quote marks around the remark.

Of course, without quote marks, he has room for deniability by claiming he was misquoted.

We also were told that, although we are reporters, this was not a press conference. Rather, it was a “meeting.” Presumably that means it had less importance.

After entering the room and posing for a few photographs Olmert took his seat in the middle of the conference table, looked around the room and asked who had a question.

There was no opening statement like the ones journalists usually hear from such high officials.

We were in Israel on a press mission sponsored by United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for all the Jewish federations in the United States and Canada. Its purpose was to show us how money raised during the Israel Emergency Campaign, prompted by last year’s Lebanon war, was being used in areas that suffered rocket attacks.

Surely, one would think the prime minister wanted to use this opportunity to thank the federations’ efforts and tell us how necessary the money is to help the hard-hit areas.

But not this prime minister.

He’s too arrogant to say thank you. And too cold to show any compassion for the mental and physical anguish his citizens suffered from missile attacks.

So without any opening comments, the Jewish journalists began asking him how he felt about American generosity and the good it was doing for trauma victims in the north, where Katyusha rockets from Lebanon bombarded communities as far south as Haifa, and in Israel’s south, where Sderot residents have experienced seven years of daily Kassam missile bombardments fired from Gaza.

His answer — which we can’t quote, of course — was basically, trauma? What trauma?

We asked him about the people we had met in the past two days who recounted their misery since the

war ended exactly a year ago. They told us stories about children who are still wetting their beds, teenagers unable to study for their matriculation exams, women who are hesitant to shower because a missile might be fired, forcing them to run for safety with no clothes on.

But Olmert would have none of that. He said there is no trauma. That the economy in the north is booming. That unemployment there is the lowest it’s ever been. That salaries are higher than they were in the past.

So another one of my colleagues asked him why psychologists who we met cited studies about widespread post-traumatic stress syndrome up north.

His response — get new psychologists. He said he had training in psychology when he was a student. He told us the trauma diagnosis is wrong. People are suffering from disappointment, he explained. They were unhappy with the result of the war.

So it was finally my turn for a question. I’ll put quotes around my question even though I can’t promise I am quoting myself exactly. (But I won’t deny anything I’m saying here).

“Mr. Prime Minister,” I began. “We are here on a UJC mission to see how the IEC (Israel Emergency Campaign) money is being used. We’ve been told about the trauma from people who are suffering from it. Are you saying that all the programs UJC is running to help these people is money being wasted?”

Finally he backed off a bit. He acknowledged there may be cases of trauma, but said it is not a widespread phenomenon — just isolated instances.

As far as the monies given by federation donors, he said it is helpful because it shows solidarity with Israel. But he said you don’t need trauma to warrant this kind of solidarity.

Our meeting broached a few other subjects, but this was the most important one since it was what brought us to Israel in the first place.

His answers put UJC in spin mode. He was tired, they suggested. He had more important things on his mind, UJC said. We continued hearing excuses for Olmert’s blunder even at our closing reception more than 24 hours later.

But the truth is that a reliable source told me Olmert was in fact briefed about our visit beforehand. That UJC was worried donors might read his comments and withhold money from pledges they have not yet paid off.

But my colleagues and I talked to enough people and saw enough studies to know that the money is needed, and even more would be helpful to pay for programming that could provide more psychological help.

If Olmert wants American Jews to feel solidarity with Israel, he needs to get on the same page as UJC.

Perhaps if the prime minister started listening to what his people are saying rather than denying any problems exist, his approval rating might increase — at least into the higher single digits.

Marc S. Klein, the editor and publisher of j. has just returned from a one-week press mission in Israel.