Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud faction meeting, December 3, 2014.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
All the electoral chaos seems about to produce a flimsy 61-vote coalition, with the average Israeli taxpayer the biggest loser, again. Say it ain’t so Bibi, say it ain’t so. Can you imagine just how opportunistic you must seem when Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman emerges as the man of principle? Are you really so desperate to stay in power that you needed to auction off Israel’s future? What kind of a nationalist are you? What kind of a Zionist? Clearly, I am not as smart as our prime minister.
I do not understand how someone who calls himself a Zionist can promise hundreds of millions of shekels for ultra-Orthodox education which is proudly, flamboyantly, often crudely anti-Zionist. I do not understand how someone who calls himself a nationalist can abandon the progress his last government made in demanding all Israeli schoolchildren learn core curriculum subjects such as modern Hebrew, English, math and science – where in the Torah is knowledge banned? I do not understand how someone who calls himself a security hawk can mortgage Israel’s future just to stay in office, producing more draft-dodgers and job-shirkers, inducing some Israelis to take from the state not contribute to it. Last time I sang it, “Hatikvah” culminated with the line “to be a free people in our land.” I thought our Zionist anthem championed independence not dependence, educating for competence not incompetence in the modern world.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s surrenders violate the Likud’s constitution calling for creating conditions for a flourishing free economy. Depriving children of basic skills mocks those goals. The Likud’s forefather, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, would be disgusted and disappointed.
Jabotinsky believed in sticking to principle not succumbing to blackmail. At what point does holding onto power for its own sake become pointless? Doesn’t Benjamin Netanyahu hope to leave a legacy beyond mere longevity? And why won’t he stand by the important reforms he implemented in 2003? Back then, Israel was overtaxing and under-incentivizing too many citizens, bribing them to procreate, discouraging them from working. Netanyahu’s cutbacks helped trigger Israel’s economic miracle then, what will his cave-ins accomplish now? I am not angry at the United Torah Judaism negotiators.
True, they secured so many goodies the ultra-Orthodox weekly Mishpacha ran a headline proclaiming: “The Famine Has Ended.” But just as it is hypocritical to label left-wing protests “democratic” but ultra-Orthodox ones “undemocratic,” give the haredi bosses their due. They did what Israel’s malfunctioning coalition system and what the current prime minister masquerading as Chicago ward heeler encourage them to do. As New York’s corrupt nineteenth-century Tammany Hall pol George Washington Plunkitt boasted: “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.”
In fairness, let’s also acknowledge how correct Netanyahu has been regarding Iran. If Netanyahu’s domestic capitulation is craven and costly, US President Barack Obama’s “not on my watch” international submission to Iran is delusional and dangerous.
The Lausanne aftermath has demoralized proud Americans and worried Westerners who understand that American power maintains internationality stability.
The Iranian insults to America are piling up like headless corpses at an Islamic State rally: continuing the “death to America” rhetoric, exporting violence to Yemen and Syria, escalating the genocidal threats against Israel, seizing a civilian ship of an another American ally, the Marshall Islands.
Netanyahu’s appeasement puts added pressure on Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett if he becomes education minister. The haredi sellout constrains everyone else financially and contradicts Bayit Yehudi’s founding principles, too. His party’s vision statement endorses nurturing a “Jewish-Zionist identity” among “all the state’s children,” teaching about “Herzl and the founders of Zionism, David Ben-Gurion and the leaders of the nation.”
The pressure is on Moshe Kahlon too. Kahlon vowed that his party, Kulanu, would keep Netanyahu centered and protect the average taxpayer.
The base of “Kulanu” – all of us – is tired of being mugged. Hijacking current government funding to bankroll freeloaders and train even more to expect handouts is counterproductive. Turning the budgeting process into a political auction is exactly the kind of bad-government practice Kahlon’s good-government promises pledged to end. Kahlon and his party members should beware. If they start weak, they will become another impotent minor party.
Our politicians should address the Ethiopian crisis as a Zionist crisis too. Let’s redirect the haredim’s billion-shekel ransom toward these hard-working, taxpaying, army-serving patriots. The Ethiopian rescue is one of the great Zionist adventures of recent times – we should make their successful adjustment one of the great Israeli success stories of all time.
And watching the IDF’s heroics in Nepal, one wonders, how can one security establishment – the army – be so good and a second security establishment – the police – so jinxed? Did any coalition partners demand a thorough police reform, weeding out sexual harassers and removing racists? Will the new government effectively target organized crime and disorganized but rampant home burglaries, two of Israel’s biggest policing challenges today? If the search for Cabinet-issued Volvos trumped those issues in Bibi’s bazaar, shame on all our leaders.
My Zionist critique ends with a Zionist reaffirmation.
My current anger will not sour me on our state or our mission. Just as I can support Netanyahu regarding Iran – and other matters – while criticizing him when necessary, I can distinguish between my current, immediate, completely justified anger at this coalition sellout and my ongoing, deep commitment to Israel and the Zionist enterprise. I don’t see any Americans, Left or Right, abandoning the America of Baltimore and Ferguson, no matter how angry they might be. We should not abandon Israel – while reminding our country and ourselves about the core Zionist mission to create the model Jewish Democratic state at least some of the coalition partners, and most of Israel’s citizens, desire. Let’s build it together, in hope not despair, in optimism not cynicism.
The author is a professor of history at McGill University and is teaching at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg School this semester. His next book, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, will be published by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press this October.