In search of an Israeli leader

While the Jewish state has faced incredible challenges in its brief history, it has overcome them only because past leaders believed in more than simply amassing power.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot in the 2013 election[File] (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot in the 2013 election[File]
With the election cycle in full swing, it has become apparent that Israelis are seriously limited in their choices. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has served his country admirably, he spent his latest term deflecting criticism of indecisiveness, levied against him his entire political career. Indeed, his inability to make tough decisions (i.e. to lead) was never more evident than over the past two years.
Despite being branded as a “right-winger,” Netanyahu is, in fact, less of an ideologue than he is a political opportunist, seemingly doing whatever is necessary at any given time simply to retain power. When politically expedient, Netanyahu will veer to the Left (reflected in his embrace of Palestinian statehood in 2009 followed by a 10-month freeze on settlement construction the following year) and the Right (his intermittent authorization of accelerated building across the Green Line in response to Palestinian belligerence). His preference, however, is to not rock the boat at all by maintaining the status quo whenever possible; a formula for political, not national survival.
Of particular concern is the growing divergence between Netanyahu’s rhetoric and reality.
Despite repeated “hawkish” declarations on security, multiple terrorist attacks in recent months, invoking memories of the second intifada, exemplify the previous government’s inability to protect its citizenry; this, on the heels of the 50-day war against Hamas, which was an abject failure by any measure.
Netanyahu’s hesitation at the operation’s onset was perhaps wise, but as the tunnel threat came to light and rocket attacks persisted, his constant vacillation (the dozen-odd cease-fires he acceded to) became unjustifiable, a perceived weakness that surely prolonged the conflict by weeks. Most importantly, Netanyahu has failed to achieve his primary objective; namely, to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons. While he should be commended for forcing the issue onto the international community’s agenda, the Islamic Republic has nonetheless expanded its atomic program by leaps and bounds during Netanyahu’s tenure, to the point where Tehran has effectively become a nuclear threshold state.
Multiple credible reports have claimed that a realistic opportunity existed until the end of 2012 to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, but that Netanyahu never pulled the trigger. Now, by most accounts, the window for an effective Israeli strike has shut. In the absence of a credible military threat, coupled with the Obama administration’s eagerness to save face by forging a phony deal with Tehran, it is a near-certainty that the mullahs will get the bomb.
These policy failures can be traced back to the fact that Netanyahu has never elucidated a clear vision for a better future for Israel (he did not even advance a formal platform during the last election campaign). Essentially, his leadership style is akin to captaining a ship through stormy waters; an important skill, except for when the vessel in question has no destination. Otherwise, it is an exercise in futility, tantamount to treading water.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu may still win reelection, solely on the basis of being the best of a bad lot.
By comparison, a Tzipi Livni-led government would undoubtedly steer the country toward the nearest iceberg. Livni is perhaps the worst high-profile politician in Israel’s history, her resume a laundry list of colossal failures. That she has not been consigned to the political dustbin evidences the dirty collusion between the media and those willing to advance left-wing policies (especially those who defect from the Right), irrespective of their destructive consequences.
As foreign minister in the Olmert government, Livni spearheaded UN Resolution 1701, which left securing southern Lebanon to international peacekeepers after the 2006 war against Hezbollah. Nearly a decade later, Iran’s proxy has amassed some 100,000 rockets and is battle-tested after fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Later, as leader of Kadima (the Likud offshoot responsible for pushing through the disastrous disengagement from Gaza), Livni was unable to form a government despite winning the most mandates in the 2009 election. She was thereafter totally irrelevant as head of the opposition.
Most recently, Livni failed miserably in her role as chief negotiator with the Palestinians, overseeing a futile nine-month process that, like all “peace” talks before them, culminated with a surge in Palestinian terrorism.
Her current lamentable verbal attacks against Netanyahu – this, after having been the first party leader to join his latest coalition – are the actions of an insecure politician who refuses to take any responsibility for her own ineffectiveness, if not outright incompetence.
Then there are the middle-of-the-pack candidates: Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon with his newly-formed Kulanu party.
The reality is that time is not on Liberman’s side and, despite attempts to rebrand himself as a moderate, it appears as though diminishing popular support will preclude him from becoming prime minister. For his part, Lapid is the latest Israeli political flameout after an awful run as finance minister.
At least half of his mandates will likely be scooped up by Kahlon (assuming the two do not unite under one list), this election’s trendy “centrist” running a campaign premised on “social justice.”
Kahlon, like Lapid before him, stands for nothing and anything, a chameleon candidate that will be the talk of the town until he too fails to change the “oppressive” system and the “people” move on to their next savior prototype.
Which brings us to what were the two great hopes of the upcoming election, emanating from opposite sides of the political spectrum. But, sadly, both Labor’s Isaac Herzog and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett have recently proven they are likewise not ready to assume the mantle of leadership.
Herzog is by far the more disappointing.
Steeped in Zionist tradition, he could have been the first leader of the Left in decades with mass – perhaps even crossover – appeal; but by joining forces with Livni – whose party was unlikely to pass the electoral threshold – and agreeing to a rotating premiership, Herzog effectively signaled to the nation that he is not ready for the top job.
The argument that he did it for the good of the country – to bring down Netanyahu at any cost – is shoddy. The reality is that polls showed the joint list picking up only five-seven additional mandates – placing it neck-and-neck with the Likud – and that the Center- Left would still be unlikely to garner enough total seats to cobble together a coalition.
Compared to Netanyahu’s decision to merge with Liberman prior to the last election – a move that, according to polls, virtually ensured Netanyahu would be asked to form the next government – Herzog comes off looking like a serially- dependent political neophyte.
Bennett’s case is more complex.
While he has become the face of the “far Right,” an alleged fierce opponent of territorial compromises to the Palestinians, recent statements suggest he may not be the consummate ideologue. During his appearance at the Saban Forum earlier this month, Bennett contradicted his previous position by saying that he would not, as prime minister, annex Area C of the West Bank, suggesting that such a process could take up to four decades. In the interim, he called for enhanced cooperation with the Palestinian leadership.
In other words, if given the opportunity to lead, Bennett, like Netanyahu, seems intent to maintain the status quo, give or take the construction of a few thousand additional homes in existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Without delving into a cost-benefit analysis, the fact of the matter is that it would not take 40 years to annex Area C; rather, a bold directive from a government with the intestinal fortitude – and a plan – to deal with the consequences, both domestic and international (consider that it took less than a year for Ariel Sharon to push through the Gaza withdrawal).
Bennett’s statements thus seemingly expose him as yet another pseudo-ideologue, whose actions would begin to diverge from his platform the moment he rose to power.
The bitter truth is that Israel is suffering from the absence of true leadership, which has created a sense of alienation, if not dejection and even anger, among the population, which realizes the threat to the country’s survival which such a situation entails.
While the Jewish state has faced incredible challenges in its brief history, it has overcome them only because past leaders believed in more than simply amassing power, and acted in accordance with those convictions. They understood Israel to be a living, breathing cause, and that without proper guidance that cause would begin to erode.
And this is where Israel finds itself today, its legitimacy eroded.
Much of this is attributable to our enemies, but successive Israeli leaders – or lack thereof – have played their part.
The author is a correspondent for i24news, an international network broadcasting from Israel.