Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done things, and has failed to do things, that have caused me to challenge him, even criticize him bitterly, especially in this publication.
In one article, I urged him to not renew the settlement freeze, saying that it contradicted the principles of the Likud. In another I criticized his decision to release Palestinian terrorists to appease the United States and restart fruitless negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Among them all, perhaps the harshest was an article in which I wrote that Netanyahu was “no alternative” for leadership, as many of his policies resembled those of a prime minister from the Left.
Though I regret none of my policy criticisms, in that final judgment I was wrong.See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
At the time Netanyahu faced no serious challenger, so it was an easy thing to say.
Though he still stands a class above other Israeli politicians in terms of skill and experience, a challenge has been maneuvered into existence in the form of the so-called Zionist Union. And it is as bad an alternative as there can be. Whereas Netanyahu has stressed that Israel is, and must be recognized as, the Jewish state, many of the Zionist Union’s most prominent members have at one time or another rejected Israel as a Jewish state, the essence of Zionism.
Their failure to appreciate the foundation of Israel’s existence mirrors their failure to learn the lessons of almost a century of failed attempts to solve the Jewish-Arab dispute over this country through partition. They lived through the bloody results of the Oslo Accords and the Gaza disengagement, yet insist on replicating them with a “100 percent effort,” as Isaac Herzog recently told a campaign event.
But more than having failed to consider how terrible the eventual challenger(s) would be, I also failed to consider the fact that Netanyahu has become a hero for the Jewish people. It’s not merely that he can give a good speech. No Jewish leader since Menachem Begin has had the courage, rhetorical ability or understanding of the power of ideas to openly and coherently state Israel’s interests before the world.
In the Oval Office he pushed back against a public call by an internationally acclaimed president to return to the 1949 Armistice Lines. If that call had not been publicly opposed, an unachievable expectation would have been created. Of course, many still want to see an Israeli retreat, but they understand that this is something that Israel will not readily agree to.
His speeches to Congress, the standing ovations they drew, and his appearances in the American media cemented the US-Israel relationship even as it has been under a sustained assault by a hostile administration.
In his appearances at the United Nations, he made the case for Israel like no recent prime minister has. He did not merely repeat Israeli professions of a desire for peace or the familiar hasbara (public diplomacy) talking points, which much of the world, in its bias, sees as Israeli excuses. He demanded that the world stand with us before we make concessions. He reminded the world that Judea is not merely the west bank of the Jordan River, but the land of our forefathers. He went on the offensive against our enemies, especially Iran.
In these speeches he used the power of symbolism, displaying the blueprints for Auschwitz to highlight and counter the Iranian president’s denial of the Holocaust; in Paris, standing in the front line in the march against terror and addressing Paris Jewry in the Grand Synagogue of Paris; using a cartoon diagram of a bomb at the UN General Assembly to draw attention to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; bringing Elie Wiesel to Congress to highlight the madness of the Iranian regime and the danger facing the Jewish people and the world.
And it was not only in these grand addresses, but in his regular statements, press conferences, interviews, meetings with foreign leaders, and other public appearances.
The Jewish people, in and out of Israel, have yearned for a leader to clarify our position to the world and for ourselves.
It is not sufficient that such a man be a foreign minister. Only the chief minister can decide whether and how such things should be said. And only the man who has the power to follow through with his words can bring the weight of his office and personality to bear on the listener.
Can Netanyahu’s rhetoric and use of symbolism stop Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons? His warnings have focused world attention on the problem. His red lines and implicit threats birthed the sanctions. His challenge to a president in Congress will change the contours of the deal the US strikes with Iran.
And if Israel must act alone, the world will not be surprised. It may breathe a sigh of relief because it understands the danger, in part due to the efforts of Netanyahu’s rhetoric over two decades.
And if Israel must act alone, the man to give the order is the man who has bet his legacy on stopping Iran and not a duo who do not seem sufficiently bothered by the danger of an Iranian nuclear umbrella extending over the region and who say that nothing is worth risking brownie points with a US president.
There was, and will yet be, a time to criticize Netanyahu, a time when the nationalist camp, both in and out of the Likud, will need to rein him in. And it is important that Netanyahu’s most vital coalition partners be loyal to the Land of Israel. But these “coalition partners” will be of little importance if there is no Netanyahu-led coalition. There is also a natural urge by voters frustrated by the political system to punish Netanyahu, but that would mean punishing ourselves, by ridding ourselves, even if inadvertently, of a great director of Israel’s foreign policy and an able manager and supporter of an open economy.
Now, when he faces the greatest challenge to his leadership, is the time to stand with Netanyahu and to show the world that when Netanyahu pours cold water on demands for Israeli withdrawals, when he calls for aliya, when he speaks about the dangers of Islamic and Palestinian terror and of a nuclear Iran, he does indeed speak for us.