The media have been gushing like teenyboppers over Benny Gantz. Frankly, the coverage is a bit embarrassing, as it resembles the treatment of Chauncey Gardener in Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There. In that memorable book, a simpleton who worked in a garden was perceived to be a genius by those around him who saw great profundity in his every banality.
So it has been with Gantz. “I am proud of Israel” is greeted with the hosannas of “I have a dream.”
Hello. If the perspective prime minister isn’t proud of his country, then what is he doing running for office? Ultimately, this is not about Gantz. And in truth, we know very little about how Gantz would steer the ship of state.
This is all about Benjamin Netanyahu. To put it mildly, a seemingly (so far) unobjectionable alternative has shone a light on Bibi-fatigue.
For many, if he hadn’t been unwelcome on Day 1, Bibi has become so over time. Enough with the family drama, with the idea that he is the One and Only.
Plus, he is corrupt, or so they want us to believe. The amount of lint and dirt that a leader collects only grows over time.
At the same time we get inured to them, even to their successes. Another African nation establishes relationships with Israel? Another meeting with Putin? Modi? Trump? Isn’t this what he is supposed to do?
The occupational hazard of a citizenry is ingratitude. There is the famous Ajax Syndrome. Ajax, a Greek god, was importuned against his will to save the world. Once he did, he was cast aside.
Most recently, this syndrome was exemplified by Winston Churchill, who having played an irreplaceable role in steering England through the treacheries of WWII, was forced out of office shortly thereafter. The current case of Bibi-fatigue is not quite so dramatic, neither for the role Bibi has played nor for the consequences, at least as of now. But there is something in the current search for an alternative that seems to willingly put aside the achievements and accomplishments of the prime minister.
Electing a prime minister is not like finding suitor or casting a movie. “Go get me a guy who looks like a leader and doesn’t say much,” might get someone through the door, but what happens the day after the vote? As an immigrant from New York who made aliyah shortly after Netanyahu was returned to office in 2009, I have only had Bibi as my leader. I have seen him bestride the world stage, and have seen him waffle on things that I thought were self-apparent no-brainers.
IN OTHER WORDS, I perceive him to have great strengths and significant weaknesses. In that regard, he reminds me of myself, and pretty much everyone else I know.
But as I contemplate how I am going to vote in April, I would prefer to think that I am going to focus on assessing with him – and the other Benjamin – the strengths and weaknesses that will matter most to Israel, that have the potential to most impact the future of our nation.
Ironically, I suspect I benefit from being an immigrant with rather sketchy Hebrew – sketchy enough so that I can’t understand all the ruthlessly satirical columns, skits or nuances in all the demonstrations.
But I see what is being done, more than I know what is being felt. I have a good frame of reference to appreciate Israel’s standing in the world, and I have a pretty good sense of how our economy is doing, and where it needs improvement. As an immigrant, I am probably not as imbued with “general worship” as are many Israelis. I know that the skill set for being a successful general is not necessarily the same as that needed for being a successful statesman. And, as the investment advertisements remind us, “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”
As a native American, I well know that Ulysses S. Grant, the savior of the Union in the Civil War, went on to become one of the very worst-regarded presidents of the United States.
So, I for one, am waiting for Benny Gantz (and indeed, all the would-be prime ministers), to articulate his vision for the country, and what he is prepared to do and not do concerning some of the “third-rail” issues we confront. I would hope that my fellow citizens demand the same of him, and hold him to the same standard to which they have been willing to subject the prime minister. Yes, Benny is new, but is he going to keep us safe? Is he wily enough to deal with Iran, strong enough to deal with the EU, and savvy enough to navigate through the shoals of shifting allegiances in the US?
Ultimately these questions, among many other domestic issues, should be the prism through which our candidates are assessed.
This isn’t junior high school. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s about serving in one of the world’s most challenging jobs.
What we don’t want is to wake up after the election with voters’ remorse and ask ourselves, “What was I thinking? What are we going to do now?”
I, too, would be a fresh and friendly face for the Israeli public to consider rallying around to be our next prime minister. But, boy, would that be a bad idea. Sometimes, we want to hold our noses when we vote. Fair enough.
But let’s make sure we’re not cutting off the air supply to our brains.The writer is chairman of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. The opinions expressed are his alone.
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