Committed once to his country, now more committed to himself not being committed – the extraordinary complex journey of Israel’s Prime Minister
By David E. Kaplan
“DEMOCRACY IS STRONGER THAN THE COALITION” a protest placard read sending a strong message to the Israeli PM and his coalition.
No sooner had I read this placard, when someone standing next to me at a protest asked:
“How do you think this is going to end?”
Built into this question is not only “how” but “when” will it end?
To paraphrase Churchill, is it “the beginning of the end” or “the end of the beginning”? It matters because the country cannot continue like this indefinitely. If there is any doubt as to the fortitude of the protestors, it was expressed to a global TV audience in a huge banner at the Tel Aviv protest that simply and succinctly – again very Churchillian – read:
Now into its eleventh week with no side backing down, it’s a fair question. This predicament was lamented by Labour leader Merav Michaeli, who following an all-night Knesset vote immunizing the Prime Minister from prosecution while in office, said:
“this is our second War of Independence, and we must win it.”
Approaching Israel’s 75th Day of Independence, the atmosphere is hardly celebratory as people reflect how we have only recently come out of three years of Covid. How do we now come out of this affliction?
Hard to predict. Politics today has shifted from the national to the personal. “Like thieves in the night, the coalition has now passed an obscene and corrupt personal law,” wrote opposition leader Yair Lapid on Twitter referring to this impeachment law hurriedly designed to protect one man – Benjamin Netanyahu. “The citizens of Israel [should know], just before the holidays, while the cost of living is skyrocketing, [that] Netanyahu once again only cares about himself.”
How has Bibi allowed, over nearly three months, for the country to be in such a dire state. After all, did not candidate Bibi assure an anxious electorate when he was making deals with highly-questionable potential coalition partners before the November 2022 election that he would be in control. His big line – or lie – was:
“They are joining me, not I joining them.”
In other words, if he won, he Bibi, would be calling the shots.
That turned out more to be a shot in the foot and people are now concerned about his grip of reality, struggling less as he had in the past for the country to strive and now just for himself to survive.
People are asking whether he is buckling under the pressure; whether he has lost control over his coalition whose members appear to enjoy free reign to propose and express publicly on any issue they fancy, indifferent to how crazy, impractical or reckless it might be. Whereas it was once expected that he would control any wayward ministers, it appears that they now control him.
In light of this depressing scenario, it is fair to question:
“Is Bibi losing it?”
To this point, Susan Hattis Rolef in her March 26 Jerusalem Post column writes that:
“A more embarrassing and even worrying event occurred when in recent cabinet meetings Netanyahu referred (twice in a row) to “the extremists, who are leading the reform….”.
Whereas he intended to say:
“the extremists who are leading the demonstrations.”
Was this a cognitive misstep – albeit repeatedly – or do we have to be seriously concerned of who actually is running affairs? For a country in crisis, it is strange that the PM is suddenly traveling so frequently abroad – France, Germany and now the UK!
Every day, Israelis wake up to the morning news with a groan. It is not that the government is failing to avoid crises; it is creating them! Just take 22 March’s front page news in The Jerusalem Post. The main headline was the following:
Justice minister threatens to disobey High Court
Lapid: If Levin refuses to obey the law, why should citizens obey the government
Is this not a recipe for chaos?
With the rest of the front page covering – not threats from “the usual suspects” of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas or other terrorist groups – but threats from ourselves. Most concerning was hints of the unraveling of the cherished Abraham Accords with the UAE and Jordan considering reducing diplomacy with Israel. Once the pride of Netanyahu’s achievements – the Abraham Accords – a “game changer” for Israel as it began a journey of “normalization” with Arab countries in the Gulf, it now is like a leaky boat. Will it sink?
We are now at the 11th hour. So desperately felt by Jews worldwide that on the 21 March 2023, a letter was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, Leader of the opposition signed by:
Mark Wilf Chair, Jewish Agency Board of Governors, Doron Almog Chair, Jewish Agency Executive; Yaakov Hagoel Chair, World Zionist Organization; Julie Platt Chair, Jewish Federations of North America, Steven Lowy Chair, World Board of Trustees, Keren Hayesod; Eric Fingerhut President & CEO, Jewish Federations of North America and Sam Grundwerg World Chair Keren Hayesod. In this letter by Jewish leaders of major Jewish organizations around the world, they write:
“We have been witnessing an increase in serious polarization among Israel-loving Jews around the globe. The various opinions surrounding the proposed judicial reforms as well as heated public discourse are concerning to not only Israelis but to Jewish communities worldwide who feel an innate bond to the destiny and unity of our people. Today too many among us are experiencing real concern as we view the tension coming from all sides. Given the centrality of Israel in their lives, we find it our duty to share with and convey to you our concerns of so many among us regarding the future of Jewish unity. Looking towards the future of the State of Israel and world Jewry, it is essential that all sides seek dialogue at all cost, and take the time to reach, through an inclusive and wide-ranging conversation, without preconditions, the broadest possible consensus. Essential as the judicial reform may be, it cannot trump the risks of a, God forbid, brotherly war. Preventing internal strife between us is truly Pikuach Nefesh, a life-saving matter. The Jewish thing to do in such a situation is to seek dialogue at all cost, and to take the time to reach, through an inclusive and wide-ranging conversation, the broadest possible consensus.”
As I presently write this March 23, I can hear from my 5th floor study in Kfar Saba the blaring noise of drums beating, the shrill of bugles and voices over loudspeakers. This cacophony of noise is punctuated by the sound of loud car hooters, whether in support or frustration. This is a microcosm of what is playing out today across the country in every city, town and rural areas in what was is being called a “National Day of Paralysis”.
Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu is off again today – this time to the UK.
If he is trying to escape the loud sound of opposition in his home country, he will not escape it by fleeing to the UK where he is expected to be meet with more protests. The message from London is clear “Don’t expect a relaxing weekend”.
Bibi can hear. But when will he listen?
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