Netanyahu, focus on Iran, Israeli economy, security - opinion

You know what we really need: a defeated Iran, a flourishing economy, a greater sense of personal safety, and pride in all we have accomplished in 75 years.

 TURN TO President Isaac Herzog – and a dream team of Israeli icons – to lead public meetings over court reform, and develop more legitimating procedures for changing our balance of democratic powers, says the writer.  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
TURN TO President Isaac Herzog – and a dream team of Israeli icons – to lead public meetings over court reform, and develop more legitimating procedures for changing our balance of democratic powers, says the writer.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

I know I am not your favorite columnist. Nevertheless, for all my criticisms of you over the years, I have always respected your Israeli patriotism, your sense of Zionist responsibility, and your ability to think ahead about how to make Israel safe and prosperous. Your memoir exudes those values. That’s why, after reading all 657 pages, I found this rocky start to your sixth round as premier so confusing.

With respect – what are you doing? Why are you allowing all these second-stringers pushing often-trifling sideshows to weaken, divide and distract us? You know what we really need: a defeated Iran, a flourishing economy, a greater sense of personal safety, and pride in all we have accomplished in 75 years

Why let goonatics override your long-term strategy? Why are you allowing yourself to be sidelined as a marginal player in your own government, upstaged daily by demagogues and dividers?

Benjamin Netanyahu, what are you doing?

Israel has an historic opportunity right now. Iran’s evil mullohacracy faces its greatest challenge, with daily demonstrations led by brave women, now joined by equally courageous men. If that regime fell, Israel – and the democratic world – would be infinitely safer. Having done so much to warn the West of that government’s dangers, especially when the Obama administration underestimated its wickedness, your priority should be spearheading the Western push against it now.

Israel's opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Israel's opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Every meeting with Biden administration representatives  – and every other international player – should focus on forging a broad, aggressive, pro-democratic response to those protests. The world’s freedom-loving forces should be pressuring the regime openly and covertly, including warning the thugs oppressing the Iranian people that they will be punished, severely.

Instead, you are forced to defend Ben-Gvir’s Temple Mount walk one day – which I approve of in principle – and Yariv Levin’s full-court press against the court constantly. Precisely when we should be celebrating Israel-the-democratic over Iran-the-theocratic, do you really want to waste time with America’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan justifying Israeli democracy – as reportedly occurred last week?

Your book eloquently explains your vision of Israel’s ever-upward power spiral. The free market revolution, for which, you write, “I was willing to risk my political future,” strengthened the economy, which empowered Israel socially, militarily and diplomatically.

With inflation spreading, with a global recession possibly looming, shouldn’t we be bolstering our economy and society, rather than alienating investors abroad and hi-techies at home? Moreover, do you think Saudi Arabia is more likely to make peace with a united, functioning Israel or a polarized society misled by a prime minister who looks distracted and can’t even seem to manage his own junior cabinet members?

Similarly, too many Israelis today, Jews and Arabs, feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods. Shouldn’t the push to deliver law and order while nurturing respect for the law take precedence over hollowing-out the justice system?

Finally, Israelis and democracy-lovers globally, Jews and non-Jews alike, should be building toward a unifying, inspiring, celebration of Israel’s 75th this spring. Instead, after all your efforts to stabilize and toughen Israel over the decades, our country looks likes it’s teetering on the brink – to too many insiders and outsiders, to too many friends, let alone our many enemies, who delight in your three-ring coalition circus.

You’re savvy enough to know that you stand to pay a very high price for very short-term gains. Tit-for-tat legislating is as long-lasting as Yasser Arafat’s promises. If you shove court reform down Israel’s collective throat with your slim 64-vote majority, your rivals will undo those changes the first chance they get.

Admittedly, it’s not just your fault. Too many opponents have been too hysterical – and I keep challenging them too. And, yes, I concede that liberals have bulldozed over democratic sensibilities too, from Oslo and the minority-driven judicial expansion of power to the recent Lebanese deal – I approved the agreement but acknowledged process concerns.

But you know better: eye-for-eye governance leaves everyone blind. So it falls on you. Today, you are the prime minister. You have the power to take control. And you have the responsibility to function as the leader of every Israeli, not just the minority who voted for you.

SO, WHAT to do? How to break the impasse without looking weak to your allies – or giving your rivals a victory you certainly don’t think they deserve?

Take the high road. Lean into Israel’s great structural flaw that has upset so many: we lack a stable process for reforming the rules of the game. We are seeing that many Israelis distinguish correctly between passing particular policies by slender majorities, and so easily changing the status quo around Knesset-court relations or other democratic fundamentals.

Why not improvise a more mature, consensus-driven, process? Turn to President Isaac Herzog – and a dream team of Israeli icons such as Reuven Rivlin, Natan Sharansky, and Tzipi Livni working with Shas, haredi and national religious rabbis – to lead public meetings over this proposed court reform – and develop more legitimating procedures for changing our balance of democratic powers.

Ultimately, your 64 mandates give you the power to force through what you wish at any time. Why not take a little more time to create a more consensus-nurturing method? As we all breathe a sigh of relief, as you give Israel yet another long-term gift, you will be able to focus on what we really need right now.

I know it may disappoint your barn burners. But remember, you’re the boss. Time to start acting like it – for your sake – and ours. 

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American History and four books on Zionism. He is the editor of the new three-volume set, Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People (www.theljp.org).