One man remains most responsible for Israel’s current chaos – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He started it. He could end it. In March, he wisely paused his great undoing project, dismantling his economic, political, and existential achievements. This July, he unreasonably unleashed the furies again. Day by day, his failure to cultivate calm, build consensus, and unite Israel, solidifies his new reputation as a surprisingly self-destructive leader.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu has many co-conspirators, right and left, choreographing this damaging dance. Within his government, it’s not just the bullies, the demagogues, the legislative railroaders. We’ve come to expect so little from them, that every ugly bleat they belch out no longer surprises.
More disappointing is the silence of the Likud lambs – serious people, inspiring Zionists, heroic Jews, who should be acting gallantly to stop Netanyahu’s train wreck, but have turned strangely silent.
What happened to Yoav Gallant – who understood in March that this fast-tracked judicial revolution generated too much social, political, and security stress? He’s gone from hero to zero. Where is Yuli Edelstein – who defied Soviet oppressors so boldly; Avi Dichter, who protected Israelis so bravely; and Nir Barkat, who helped build our Start-Up miracle so creatively?
In March, these Likud leaders wisely slowed things down. They must stand tall again, putting the country’s needs over their party’s popularity – which will probably boost their national popularity.
Although limiting the too-sweeping reasonableness clause may be the most reasonable of the reforms, they, and Netanyahu, have so many reasonable justifications for slowing this mad rush to neuter the judiciary. It’s not just the polls, nor the Zionist imperative to address bigger threats, nor the prime ministerial mission to behave responsibly, think nationally, and represent all Israelis. But our Palestinian, Iranian, and Hezbollah enemies keep demonstrating why we should shelve this divisive debate. We must target terrorists, not each other.
A self-destructive opposition
ALAS, THE opposition is equally self-destructive. So many Israelis resent the blocked roads, harassed Ben-Gurion Airport travelers, extortionist reservists, and ever-exaggerating, sky-is-falling, mountain-out-of-molehill-makers.
We tire of these self-righteous zealots, shouting that democracy is dead, thus proving Israel’s democratic vitality. So many reasonable people opposing this government nevertheless cringe when Ehud Barak rants about Israel becoming “a de facto dictatorship” and urges reservists not to serve, even as our enemies encircle us and delight in our divisions.
We’re caught between the government’s goonatics and the mob’s lunatics.
My friends Right and Left keep blasting me for not veering far enough right or left. Some accuse me of not taking a position. Most annoyingly, on one side they whisper, “Of course, this government is terrible,” then shout: “But look at Barak and the condescending, elitist, unpatriotic crybabies, trying to turn an electoral loss into a power grab.”
Meanwhile, the opposing partisans whisper, “Of course, Ehud Barak and many other protesters are extreme,” then shout: “But look at Bibi and his divisive, demagogic, bigoted bullies, trying to turn a slim November win into a sweeping, destructive, judicial coup.”
Partisans from both sides excuse their excesses by explaining that Israeli politicians follow “Chicago Rules”: if you don’t out-crazy your opponents, you lose. Such is politics, ignoring nuance and your own party’s inconsistencies, is an all-or-nothing politics of demonization, denial, and destruction, rather than a nation-building politics of camaraderie, compromise, and consensus-building.
Israel’s silenced majority
I FOLLOW President Isaac Herzog’s rules, giving voice to Israel’s silenced majority fair-mindedly, temperately, and seeking a middle path. The polls keep proving that most Israelis want a compromise and balanced leadership.
Few Israelis want to be caught in the latest round of the epic ego clash pitting the 81-year-old Barak against 73-year-old Netanyahu – 50 years after Netanyahu served under Barak, 24 years after Barak unseated Netanyahu as prime minister, and a decade after Barak stopped serving as Netanyahu’s defense minister.
Most Israelis want reservists to serve, traffic to flow, Ben-Gurion Airport to function, and a government-for-all-Israelis governing effectively, wisely, fairly, maturely.
Muscular moderation is not sniveling on the sidelines but building on half-steps. Many on the Left say, “Of course, we need some judicial reform” – forgetting that they weren’t saying that before November. Many on the Right say, “of course, we can’t push change too far, too fast” – forgetting that they weren’t saying that until late March.
Those shifts should encourage more negotiations at the President’s Residence, rejecting Barak’s claim that “to resume the talks now is to assassinate the protest.”
Negotiating respects the protests – which have been impressively peaceful for 28 weeks and have been the only force that slowed down the Right’s judicial juggernaut. But Israel’s politics are so allergic to your rivals enjoying parts of a win-win – it risks imposing a lose-lose on everyone.
Once again, I call for a massive PR campaign, supporting President Herzog, telling his story, celebrating his family values, boosting his agenda – and ours.
We’re lucky to have a president like Herzog addressing Congress today – emphasizing our eternal American-Israel bonds – and unintentionally exposing many illiberal liberals as Israel-haters. Had Netanyahu addressed this Congress, even many American Jews would have rationalized any snubs as anti-Netanyahu, not anti-Zionist.
The Biden administration’s unfair cold shoulder unwittingly illuminates that these speech boycotters hate Israel for what it is, not what it does; for all it represents, no matter who represents it.
Hopefully, when President Herzog returns home he’ll help free us from this morass. But the mainstream middle must already start mobilizing, boosting him and his vision of an Israel that doesn’t agree on everything, but has leaders who bring us together rather than tear us apart.
The writer 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).