Leading is not easy. Leading Israel is certainly not a simple task. It is not
surprising that many leaders of Israel, maybe even most of them, have made
decisions in office that go against what they preached and believed in before
they sat in the prime minister’s seat. As the saying goes, “what you see from
here is not what you see from there.”
Real leadership is measured when
one is faced with real-life situations that place diametrically opposed values
and principles on the scales of decision making.
Binyamin Netanyahu faced
that in the Gilad Schalit case. His positions on negotiating with terrorists and
releasing terrorists from prison in hostage situations were well known. He had
written about this issue, spoken about his opposition to prisoner releases and
even advised foreign governments on the issue.
But when facing the issue
himself and facing the reality that on the other side of the scale was a living
soldier whose chances of surviving much longer in captivity were seriously
questioned, he was forced to make a decision that challenged his positions. He
recognized the social solidarity that emerged from all corners of Israeli
society because of the “unwritten covenant” between the people and their army.
Eventually, Netanyahu abandoned his steadfastness, paid the unbearable price and
brought the soldier home.
This was proof of real leadership and no one
can take that away from him.
I am not a “Bibi expert.” I don’t claim to
know how he thinks and I would never try to second-guess him. Common wisdom and
many Bibi experts tell us that our prime minister views himself in historical
terms. They say the prime minister believes he is destined to do great things
for Israel and to bring Israel to new heights of achievement.
claims that his primary mission as prime minister is to ensure the long-term
security of the state and its people.He believes he is a democrat, that he must
protect Israel’s democracy and that he must also ensure that the pluralism that
exists in Israel society also finds its voice in politics.
also seems conflicted.
He is conflicted because he also believes that
left-wing political views are dangerous to Israel and weaken its position, both
domestically and in the eyes of the world.
He also seems to believe that
those citizens who criticize Israel at home, and even more so abroad, are not
loyal to the state and even that they serve its enemies.
granted a free hand to his deputies in the Knesset to advance a legislative
agenda that is a direct challenge to the basic values of democracy which
Netanyahu says he supports.
The Knesset members who are acting for
Netanyahu do not have the same ideological basis that Likud “princes” like
Reuven Rivlin, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor share. Menachem Begin, the legendary
Likud leader who spent decades in the opposition, understood that in democracy
majorities rule, but the rules of game are engraved in stone – they cannot be
changed by an arbitrary majority.
THE WINTER session of the current
Knesset is turning out to be the ultimate testing ground for Netanyahu’s
leadership. It is in this session that Israel’s democracy is being challenged as
never before. The attack is on all fronts – against the independence of the
judiciary and against the basic human rights of minorities. Those who disagree
with the government are on the defensive to preserve their basic right to free
speech and political organization.
The media is under attack and
Non-governmental organizations that work for human rights,
defend the weak, create alternative media, provide a voice for unorganized
workers, empower the powerless and fight the powerful and work for peace with
our neighbors are directly threatened. With the right-wing majority in the
Knesset, the proposed legislation will automatically pass and will become the
new law of the land.
Every so often it seems that Netanyahu hears Begin’s
voice and realizes that he must apply some brakes against the gluttonous greed
for power of his coalition.
So the process is that new anti-democratic
laws are presented, either in the Knesset, or in the government. They are
advanced by the rising stars of various coalition partners in the Likud, Yisrael
Beiteinu, Shas and the like. The laws are debated in the media, blogged about,
Facebooked and Twittered.
Next, foreign diplomats weigh in. The foreign
media sends reporters to Jerusalem to report about new trends in Israeli
legislation. The new laws pass their first readings in the Knesset with large
majorities and are sent to the committees.
Then Netanyahu has a change of
Suddenly, the prime minister decides the laws must be reviewed,
perhaps changed, perhaps frozen, perhaps reconsidered at a later
Sometimes the brakes are not applied and the new laws pass.
Netanyahu’s leadership is being challenged and so far, unlike in the Schalit
case, he has not yet emerged as the historic leader.
DURING THIS winter
session of his Knesset the prime minister will also have to decide whether or
not to engage the current Palestinian leadership and avert possible disaster
there inspired by growing despair. Time is running out on the possibility of
changing the course of events.
This is definitely a challenge to
Netanyahu’s leadership, placing alternative values and principles on the
His behavior so far on this issue has been consistent with his
known attitudes, writings and speeches. There have been no surprises. His
decision making so far in this term of office – or, more correctly, his lack of
decision making (which is also a decision) is leading Israel to the next round
of violence. Of this there is almost no doubt in my mind.
happens, I have no doubt that Israel will once again pay the price.
only real question will be how painful a price will be paid. How many Israelis
and how many more Palestinians will pay with their lives? How many families will
be destroyed? How much pain will be inflicted? There is no military solution for
this conflict. This conflict is resolvable – even though most Israelis and most
Palestinians seem to be duped into believing that it is not.
much Netanyahu can do to change the course of events. Even with his current
coalition, he is a skillful enough politician to know what to do and how to do
it. If he uses his coalition as an excuse for not taking action, for not making
the hard decisions, then he will have proved himself to be a small leader, a
small politician, and not the historic leader he sees in the mirror every
morning. We need the historic leader in the mirror to stand tall and to lead –
taking the challenge and demonstrating that he really has the rare quality of
deciding for the future and not the moment – making history rather than being
history.The writer is the Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center
for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and a radio
host on All for Peace Radio.