To the new government: Help heal our nation

We might have come together for a few weeks amid the COVID-19 lockdown, but we are far from being where we should be as a nation.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Benny Gantz at a Knesset memorial ceremony for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, last year (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Benny Gantz at a Knesset memorial ceremony for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, last year
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
When Benny Gantz took up his post as IDF chief of staff in 2011, the IDF was still roiling over the Harpaz Affair – the forging of a document that had detailed a strategy on how to secure the appointment of then-major-general Yoav Gallant as chief of staff.
The Harpaz Affair was much more than just a forged document. At its core was a rotten relationship between Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz’s predecessor as chief of staff, and then-defense minister Ehud Barak. The feud saw both men working to undermine the other’s decisions, nasty briefings against one another to the media and, ultimately, Barak’s decision not to extend Ashkenazi’s term.
Against this background, the new chief of staff convened his generals for the first time in the General Staff conference room at the Kirya military headquarters.
“There is the smell of a carcass in the room,” Gantz told the officers. “I find myself thinking about our friends who fell in battle, and whether we are still worthy of their sacrifice.”
Gantz wasn’t exaggerating. The atmosphere within the top echelons of the IDF at the time was bitter and acrimonious. Generals didn’t know whom they could trust: behind closed doors, the defense minister was speaking against the former chief of staff, and vice versa. Ashkenazi and Barak could barely look at one another in public.
Despite the 10 years that have passed, the Harpaz Affair was brought back last week by Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, who are trying to use it to delegitimize Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit ahead of the prime minister’s bribery trial scheduled to begin a week from Sunday.
Moreover, Gantz is now reliving a similar situation to the one he encountered in 2011. What he smelled when becoming chief of staff will be similar to what he will encounter nine years later when he enters the cabinet room in the Prime Minister’s Office next week, now as defense minister.
After 17 months of political bickering and negating one another, Netanyahu and Gantz may be joining hands to establish a government, but that doesn’t mean the smell of the carcass is no longer in the room.
There is still the issue of trust between the two men, which remains at a minimum. It might not be where it was before the March 2 election, when Gantz told members of his party that he “did not believe a single word Bibi said,” but there is still a great deal of suspicion between the two Benjamins. Gantz desperately wants to believe that Netanyahu will abide by the deal and step down for the scheduled rotation at the end of 2021; and Netanyahu is still fearful that once his criminal trial begins, Gantz might end up jumping ship.
But beyond the politicians, and much more important, is the need for Israel to heal. Not just the politicians but the entire nation. The last few weeks battling the coronavirus might have made some of us forget, but this country was split ahead of the last election two and a half months ago. It was split politically – more than half the country voted against Netanyahu – and it was split socially: the Right attacked the Arabs; the Left the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), and on and on. The stench of that carcass is still out there. It has not gone away. We might have come together for a few weeks amid the COVID-19 lockdown, but we are far from being where we should be as a nation.
In their coalition agreement, Gantz and Netanyahu agreed to set up a “Reconciliation Cabinet.” What this means exactly remains to be seen. But Gantz should make sure that the fate of this special cabinet is not like almost every other committee established in this country – a panel set up to send an issue to die a slow death. That is what happened with the Nissim Commission, set up two years ago to come up with a resolution to the conversion crisis, and that is what happened to the committee set up seven months ago to fight crime in the Arab sector, which is also now a fading memory.
If done right, the novel coronavirus does not need to be the only justification for Netanyahu and Gantz to form the government that will be sworn in on Sunday. It can also be a catalyst for reconciliation across society, a reconciliation that is needed and could become the incoming government’s greatest achievement.
This won’t be easy. Based on the attacks against Mandelblit and the resurfacing of the Harpaz Affair, politicians like Amir Ohana – the outgoing justice minister and incoming public security minister – are not going to stop. He is on a mission to delegitimize Mandelblit ahead of his boss Netanyahu’s trial. The reason is because with COVID-19 mostly behind Israel (for now), there is almost nothing that can be done to stop Netanyahu from having to appear in court. But what he and his cronies can do is turn the tables on the prosecution and make it seem that not only is their case illegitimate, but so are the prosecutors themselves.
They are trying to divert the public’s attention away from the trial, so that people are more focused on the prosecutors themselves and 10-year-old allegations that were already dismissed and found to be baseless. The fact that Ayala Hasson, a veteran journalist on Channel 13, revealed the transcript from an unlawfully obtained recording banned from publication by the courts shows to what length this machine is willing to go to undermine the rule of law in Israel.
Gantz will have many challenges ahead of him, but protecting the country’s democracy will be the most important one. He might have helped Netanyahu stay in power, but he doesn’t have to help Netanyahu and his Likud Party undo Israel’s democratic character. Unfortunately, if not stopped, that is what might happen.
“Modeh Ani” – I give you thanks. That is the prayer Jews have been reciting for centuries upon waking up in the morning. Many say it while still in bed. It is a prayer of thanks and gratitude to God, for the new day that is beginning with the challenges and the opportunities that it will bring.
Starting next Friday, M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education together with Beit Prat – Israeli Midrasha will hold “Days of Gratitude”: nine days for Israelis, Jews and people around the world to show appreciation and give thanks for the accomplishments, achievements and successes of our nation. Like the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, these Days of Gratitude are meant to help us find a way to integrate thanks into our lives and our national identity.
Each day is focused on a different issue. Next Friday, people will be asked to do something that shows gratitude to health workers; on Saturday it will be geared to spouses and partners; another day is dedicated to ancestors; and another to our relationship with God.
The project was established about eight years ago, but this is the first year that the organizers are looking to take it global. The catalyst was COVID-19, explained Shuki Taylor, head of M².
“We knew that, as the world would experience endless loss, now is the time to return to the most powerful Jewish ritual: starting with Modeh Ani,” Taylor said. “Counting your blessings – especially and in spite of the darkness and the loss.”
It is a beautiful idea, one we should all consider adopting. When you think about it, there is so much for which we – no matter where we are in the world – can be grateful. There are the medical teams that work in unimaginable conditions to fight the coronavirus; volunteers who go door-to-door delivering food to the poor and sick; and small acts of kindness taking place on every street and in every apartment building, where neighbors check in on one another in ways they haven’t in the past.
On that note, we at The Jerusalem Post want to give thanks to you, our readers, who during this health crisis continue to engage with us in print and online, looking to us as your source for news about Israel, the Middle East, the Jewish world and the impact of the coronavirus during this period in our nation’s history.
We are grateful.