Israel is experiencing a kind of mass Henry Higginsian moment. As we whimper once more into our endless election cycle, half of the country is unexpectedly aching for the pleasant, honest face and little crocheted kippa of Naftali Bennett.
Like Professor H, we never dreamed we’d become accustomed to his face, accustomed to his smile, accustomed to his niceness, but we did. And now, dare we say it, his smiles, frowns, ups and downs are almost second nature to us now. We want more.
Don’t get me wrong: I am delighted to slip that envelope with my vote for Yair Lapid, yet again, into the well-used blue box. Lapid promises us that there’s a future, and I believe him: A good future; a tomorrow where corruption is slowly scrubbed out of politics, where public transport is accessible to all every day, where the priorities of the state are for the people’s benefit, not for the prime minister. I admire Lapid and what he stands for. I’m happy he’s leading my country, but I’m sincerely sorry that Bennett won’t be there at his side.
It’s surprising to me that I feel this way. Bennet was traditionally a hard right-winger and a settler type, who happened to settle in Ra’anana. For me, settlements conjure up images of wild thugs with earlocks flying, who uproot Arab olive trees and live lawlessly, blaming their behavior on God. I know that not all Israelis who live on the West Bank are extremists. I know it’s complicated to extricate ourselves, but I wish we could come to some sort of peace treaty and separate from towns and cities that hate us so. I would not vote for someone who thought otherwise.
But Bennett somehow did the impossible. He, like Ariel Sharon before him and even Menachem Begin before that, put the good of the country before his own personal beliefs. He rose above and worked with the left wing and Ra’am, and in doing so he gifted us a year when it seemed that anything was possible here: We were dreamers joining John Lennon as the world, or at least the center of it, inched a tiny little bit closer to living as one. Bennett reintroduced a forgotten fact: You can disagree through discourse, dialogue and dignified discussions. It’s not necessary to scream “traitor” at the other side.
It didn’t work. Three utterly insignificant members of the Coalition for Change – three stinkers – couldn’t cope with the greatness that had been thrust upon them. They defected, crowing of victory and principles, into positions of more power. And our brave band of hope tottered and tumbled. The wild rhetoric returned to our TV screens and our streets, along with the rantings and insults. Oy, who has the strength for this nonsense anymore?
The difference between the demeanor of the two sides is astonishing. Just Google “Naftali Bennet’s Inaugural Speech” and watch as two worlds collide: one of order, democracy, civility and good governance, the other of thugs and bullies booing and being beyond pathetic.
I WILL never get over sitting with my grandson, then aged six, to show him democracy in action when Bennett became our leader. One by one, opposition lawmakers shouted and screeched, turning the hallowed halls of our Knesset into a Monty Python skit about arguments, just without the humor. I had to shut off the TV in haste, just as if violence or pornography were on the air. What kind of educational lesson is that for a young kid? And what about the adults in town, do we need this?
Bennett had me at his first sentence, although it took him over three minutes to get there through the debacle. He thanked outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for leading the country, and a rock of ice that had lodged in our hearts since 1995 began to thaw. When Netanyahu became prime minister, after Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, we waited desperately for some sort of acknowledgment of the tragedy. Many viewers could not forgive our new leader for grinning from that infamous balcony in Zion Square, while some of the rabbles below bleated that Rabin was a Nazi. Netanyahu never condemned the incitement, and to some that made him complicit. We needed our new boss to say he would lead us all, the whole country and that while he was delighted to be our leader, he was cognizant of the fact that he had been elected due to assassination and it pained him.
Did Netanyahu thank Rabin? Ha.
Bennett's benefits for Israel
With Bennett at our helm, we fervently believed, these terrible rifts in our society could begin to heal. After all, he was from the Right, working with the Center, the Left, Ra’am and whoever wanted to stop the madness. How our hearts broke when puny, little, publicity-grabbing politicians torpedoed this miracle.
So Bennett is gone, and we miss him. We miss his family, who were never in the news and who didn’t incessantly tweet and twitter shtuyot (nonsense) and worse. We miss his calmness, twinkle and sweet smile. We miss his honesty, values and the fact that he put the good of the country above his own personal gain.
I urge you before you place your next ballot in the box to Google that first Knesset speech and think carefully about what type of country you’d like your grandchildren to inherit. Watching the dignified, respectful transition of power in England, we can only sigh and pray that we are saved from another coalition of cultists and hooligans here, so that we too can have civilized scenes beamed from our Parliament. Surely, we deserve that.
Thank you, Naftali Bennett, for beginning that process. If you come back, hopefully, you’ll help form a ruling coalition that makes us proud of our tiny little piece of land smack in the middle of the world.
Even if you don’t return to public service, thank you for the break in the insanity that you gave us when you were our prime minister. Thank you for being you. ■
The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl. [email protected]