Although I’m writing this before the Israeli elections on April 9, it’s a sure bet that the next prime minister of the Jewish state will be named Benjamin – Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu or Benjamin (Benny) Gantz. Let’s hope that the Benjamin who is elected will put the acrimonious election campaign behind us, and do his utmost to unite all Israelis for the good of the country.
There’s nothing anti-Zionists and antisemites like more than to see Israelis and Jews fighting each other. It’s only when we stand and work together that we can really be a light unto the nations.
Gantz put it succinctly in his address to the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, at the end of March. “Our people live for hope,” he said. “If we want hope, we must have unity. If we want security, we must have unity, and throughout history, the only way we have won is by being united. Unity is our past, and unity must be our future.
“As a former IDF chief of staff and a future leader of Israel, I know the secret of our strength. It is based on our ability to stay together. Unity – that is the secret weapon of the Jewish nation.”
Netanyahu, who cut short his visit to Washington and returned home in the wake of a flare-up between Hamas and Israel, addressed the AIPAC conference via satellite.
“Take it from this Benjamin, it’s not about the Benjamins,” he said, rebutting a tweet by Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar that US support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins, baby.” Omar, who later apologized for the offensive suggestion that Jewish money was the reason for strong US-Israel ties, was referring to the 100-dollar bills with the face of one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.
“The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money,” Netanyahu declared. “It’s because they share our values. It’s because America and Israel share a love of freedom and democracy. It’s because we cherish individual rights and the rule of law.”
As I watched Gantz and Netanyahu, I was reminded of another Benjamin – the father of modern Zionism, Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl. While Herzl did not live to see the establishment of the Jewish state, it was his vision – laid out in his journalism and his speech at the Zionist Congress he convened in Basel in 1897 – that paved the way for the creation of Israel in 1948.
“If you will it, it is no dream,” Herzl famously said.
As I was pondering these Benjamins, I recalled where the name originated. The Book of Genesis tells us that Rachel, Jacob’s second wife, died as she gave birth to the boy she originally called Ben-oni, “the child of my suffering.” But Jacob changed the name of his 13th and last child (12 sons and one daughter) to Binyamin, “the son on the right side.”
Benjamin became the progenitor of one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and had 10 sons of his own. The only brother who was not part of the plot to kill Joseph – whom the others had sold into slavery in Egypt – he was given a special blessing by Jacob before the latter’s death.
For the sake of Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy, may the Benjamin who wins the election be blessed with the wisdom of his namesake, and form a coalition that represents both the will of the majority and the rights of the country’s minorities.
As we approach the spring holidays, we wish those readers who celebrate them a happy Passover and Easter in April, and a blessed Ramadan in May.