“It takes a village to raise a child,” goes a proverb that Hillary Clinton turned into the title of a 1996 book. The idea is straightforward: parents alone cannot raise responsible, well-adjusted children; rather, it takes a community, including friends, family, teachers and neighbors.
By the same token, it will take more than one individual to lead Israel out of its current impasse. To do so it is going to take key members of the coalition, as well as responsible members of the opposition and leaders of the mass protest movement whose genuine concern is the democratic nature of the state, not overturning the results of the last election.
The last month’s experience indicates that despite the hope that one individual will be able to do or say that one thing that will douse the flames and return the country to BJR (Before the Judicial Reform), this simply is not going to happen.
Israel's leaders fail to reassure nation
Three weeks ago, the nation cast its expectant eyes toward President Isaac Herzog. He had been overseeing various teams of negotiators and working on a compromise proposal that many hoped would represent the Maimonidean golden mean. On March 15, he delivered a dramatic address to the nation that landed with a dud. While some in the opposition applauded it as an excellent place to start, the coalition – including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – thought it tilted too far toward the anti-reformers and rejected it out of hand.
The next to try his hand was Netanyahu. On Thursday, he dramatically weighed in on a matter that he had publicly not waded deeply into because of the fear that if he did so, the attorney-general might declare him unfit to serve because of a conflict of interest stemming from his ongoing trials. That fear disappeared when the Knesset passed a law earlier that day limiting the attorney general’s ability to render a prime minister incapacitated.
Just as was the case before Herzog’s address, here too there was a great deal of anticipation about what he would say. Perhaps he would devise the magic formula to solve the nation’s conundrum. Perhaps he would freeze the judicial reform legislation. Perhaps he would further soften the law altering the way judges are chosen. Perhaps he would make some other dramatic gesture to the opposition to end the protests and convince the reserve pilots and soldiers to cease threatening not to volunteer for duty.
“I am not saying this in the abstract, we intend to bring clear legislation on the matter. I myself will make sure that this will happen.”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Like Herzog, Netanyahu also failed to deliver.
There were two major components of his address. The first was a pledge to pass legislation anchoring civil rights into law – something akin to America’s Bill of Rights. This law, he said, would ensure the civil rights of all citizens – Jews and Gentiles, religious and secular, women and members of the LGBTQ community – “everyone, without exception.”
Such a bill of rights would go a long way toward addressing the fears of those opposed to the judicial reform who argue that in the absence of such a law – which has been the case up until now – the court is the only defender of civil rights in this land.
“I am not saying this in the abstract, we intend to bring clear legislation on the matter,” Netanyahu said. “I myself will make sure that this will happen.”
By declaring that he himself would guarantee the legislation, Netanyahu was presuming that this type of guarantee from the highest elected official in the land would reassure the nation.
By the same token, he said, “enough is enough. I am now getting involved in the event. I am putting aside every other consideration. For the sake of our people and our state, I will do everything I can to bring about a solution.”
In a nutshell, here is what Netanyahu told a nation on edge: “Trust me, I’ll find a solution.”
What’s the problem? A good part of the country doesn’t trust him.
Netanyahu has a gaping trust deficit. He wants the public to view him as an experienced and responsible leader and statesman who will come in and make things right because he has done so in the past. But a good part of the country – reflected in the hundreds of thousands of people out on the street protesting – have zero confidence in his ability to do so.
“Trust me,” Netanyahu bellows.
“No way,” comes the thunderous response from half the nation.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was initially expected to address the country Thursday night before Netanyahu and urge halting the legislation. However, he met the prime minister just before he was slated to speak and then postponed his address. Apparently, he wanted to see what Netanyahu would say and whether it would satisfy him.
It didn’t. How do we know? Because on Saturday night Gallant gave a dramatic address in which, citing unprecedented security challenges from the outside – Iran, the Palestinians and the northern arena – coupled with anger, frustration and pain inside the army as a result of the judicial overhaul proposal, he called to halt the legislation until at least after Independence Day in late April.
“As Israel’s defense minister, I say clearly that the breach within the nation has penetrated deep into the IDF and the defense establishment – this is a clear, real and immediate danger to the security of the state,” he said. “I will not allow this.”
The words “I will not allow this” assume that he has the power to prevent it. Indeed, many believed that if the defense minister warned of security threats emerging from the judicial overhaul plan, everyone would listen; that this would be enough.
Yet it turned out not to be enough. On Sunday night Netanyahu swiftly and unceremoniously fired Gallant. A couple of Likud MKs – Yuli Edelstein and David Bitan – backed Gallant’s call to halt the process, but that was not enough to do so. And the opposition and protest leaders, though some praised Gallant for his courage, did nothing to incentivize other Likud MKs to join Gallant.
What would such incentives look like? Immediately entering into negotiations with the coalition over the reforms; halting the protests while the talks take place and the legislation process is paused; calling on reservists to resume duty as before.
Gallant on Saturday night took a courageous step to set the country back on track. He sacrificed his dream job and political future inside the Likud for what he deemed to be the greater good of the country. This did not, however, create the snowball effect that he and some others had anticipated.
Why not? Because it is going to take more than one individual to bring this standoff to an end. Gallant tried, but – like Herzog – he did not have the necessary authority, gravitas or charisma to get everyone behind him to fall into line. It will take the political equivalent of a village: responsible members of the coalition, opposition and leaders of the protest movement to realize what Gallant realized – that reasonable compromise is the only way out of this impasse.
Or, as the defense minister said Saturday night, “Victory by one of the sides – in the city streets or one of the halls of the Knesset – is a clear loss for the State of Israel.”