Now more than ever Israel needs a leader who will bolster its inner strength - is the leadership up to the task?
Israel’s golden decade has been brought to an abrupt end, as the country now faces a long line of ticking bombs: a pandemic that the state is failing to deal with and that professionals fear is spiraling out of control; a devastated economy that has left around a fifth of the population on the breadline; and a fateful decision to pursue annexation of parts of the West Bank, with even its supporters acknowledging the need to prepare for its possible ramifications, including a destabilization of security and of relations with neighboring countries, Europe, the Jewish world, and half the US population.
Each of these issues is an epic drama in and of itself. Taken together, they are dragging the State of Israel and Israeli society into a particularly precarious and dangerous moment.
These tremendous challenges – to public health, the economy, society, security and foreign relations – must be tackled by the new unity government, the formation of which I supported. But this government appears highly unstable: it is a hugely bloated beast held up by the tiny, frail legs of a fragile agreement between two opponents. If these legs give way, we will once again be dragged into a political crisis.
To face what is the ultimate of storms, which is gaining terrifying momentum from week to week, we need a national leadership that is not only experienced and talented, but that also has a deep understanding of the crucial importance of Israel’s social resilience, and that acts to shore it up.
Israel’s secret weapon, which has seen us through hard times in the past, is the inner strength of its society, built on three main pillars: citizens’ trust in the honest intentions of their leaders to work for the public good in a nonpartisan way (despite their political differences); citizens’ sense of a shared fate (despite the chronic division between the different identity groups – “the tribes”); and broad agreement on the rules of the democratic game (even when the other side wins).
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is an almost unparalleled, experienced and talented leader. He has left his mark and can be credited with Israel’s golden decade. He kept my children safe when they served (and continue to serve) in combat units by avoiding unnecessary conflicts. He was the driving force behind the country’s economy and enabled it to flourish; and he improved Israel’s international standing.
But over the last two years, like King Saul, it is as if he has been overcome by an evil spirit: In order to evade the criminal investigations and charges against him, Netanyahu has behaved in such a way that history will judge him with no mercy. Even his close supporters cannot avoid the conclusion that Netanyahu is systematically acting to undermine Israel’s internal strength in order to protect his own personal interests.
This difficult – even tragic – conclusion is based on a mountain of evidence. Last week saw another particularly troubling addition to the collection: Netanyahu accused Avichai Mandelblit, the man he himself appointed as attorney-general, of using “criminal methods” to frame him with baseless allegations. This senior legal figure, charged with overseeing the rule of law, was accused of acting in “a conflict of interests... that cries out to the heavens,” due to a desire to prevent exposure of his “improper actions.” According to Netanyahu, Mandelblit is pursuing nothing less than a “plot to overthrow the government.” The prime minister is no longer using words that can be interpreted one way or another; his claims are unequivocal. There is no more shame, no more responsibility.
Of course, it is possible to disagree with the attorney-general’s ruling that prohibited Netanyahu from accepting a gift worth NIS 10 million from a friend, in order to fund his legal defense, though we can all agree that this is a highly unusual gift. And Netanyahu can go to court to request that this ruling be overturned. Eleven Supreme Court justices found him fit to serve as prime minister despite the criminal charges against him, so it is reasonable to assume he has faith in the court.
Instead, he has chosen to go public with bizarre conspiracy theories that undermine public trust in the very institutions that make order in our lives – the police, the state prosecutor, and the attorney-general. Netanyahu’s understandable frustration cannot justify his words of heresy. It has to be acknowledged that undermining the legitimacy of the rule of law in Israel has become the prime minister’s strategy for trying to escape the judicial process in which he is embroiled. This is a strategy that is dealing a blow to Israel’s internal strength at a time of crisis, sowing division and partisanship, and undermining democracy.
David Ben-Gurion, the architect of the State of Israel, stated that Israel’s internal strength is the key factor in the country’s security. Shimon Peres, the next generation’s state builder, requested that Ben-Gurion’s statement be inscribed on his grave on Mount Herzl. The question is: Will Netanyahu, who wishes to stand alongside them in the pantheon of Israeli leaders, come to his senses and grant priority to bolstering the country’s internal strength – needed now more than ever – over his personal interest in extricating himself from criminal proceedings?
The article was published in the Jerusalem Post.