Emirati Crown Prince is this year's 'person of the year,' not coronavirus

MIDDLE ISRAEL: Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) did not have to normalize his country’s ties with Israel.

ABU DHABI’S Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan attends the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, last year. (photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/REUTERS)
ABU DHABI’S Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan attends the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, last year.
If life had been a fairytale, our person of the year for 5780 would have been someone like Jonas Salk, the virologist whose vaccine defeated polio – a rare blending of genius and humility, an idealistic scientist who loathed his celebrity and refused to patent his discovery, thus forfeiting an estimated $7 billion.
Salk’s successor will doubtfully be as humble, but he or she is already in our midst, and his or her vaccine will likely emerge sometime in 5781. Alas, 5780 was dominated not by that breakthrough, but by its absence, which unsettled mankind not only medically, but also economically, socially and politically.
Such circumstances often result in the selection of a negative person of the year, the way the September 11 attacks and those days’ Palestinian violence made this column crown the suicide bomber as person of the year 5761.
The past 12 months’ equivalent of that choice would have been the coronavirus itself, the way our person of 5765 was Mother Nature, in the wake of that year’s tsunami in Asia and Hurricane Katrina in America. However, the coronavirus cannot be likened to a human personality, not even metaphorically, because it has no character.
Yes, Mother Nature is a person only literarily, but in personifying nature we mean that, like a parent, she sometimes punishes her children, but otherwise she delivers them every day the sunlight, water, soil, and air without which they would not live. That is why when she quakes the ground, kindles a volcano, or uncorks a flood we wonder what she, or her operator, might be trying to tell us.
The coronavirus cannot be personified. Mindless, faceless and aimless, it cannot be associated with purpose, choice, or will. That is why, despite its dominance of 5780, it cannot be our person of the year.
Perhaps, then, we should seek a politician who personified our leaders’ confused and inept response to the pandemic, someone like Ya’acov Litzman?
THE MAN who was health minister when the plague broke out was useless when his position demanded he take charge of a crisis. Having quickly proved managerially irrelevant, the veteran hack focused on the interests of his narrow constituency, while failing to dialogue with the broader citizenry and convince us that he was there for us all and that he knew what he was doing.
Litzman’s consequent departure, and his politically driven derailment of the medical experts’ efforts to quarantine severely infected cities, encapsulated the culture of anarchism and indiscipline that underpinned our bungling of 5780’s dominant challenge.
Then again, Litzman is already history, and crowning him person of the year would blow out of proportion his role in this calamity, proverbial though it was.
Indeed, the pandemic’s failure so far to produce anywhere in the world a dominant name, for better or worse, must lead us to seek our person of the year in 5780’s two other dramas, namely, the legal and the diplomatic.
THE LEGAL drama was about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment, and the bare-knuckles attack on the judiciary that he and his groupies have waged in its wake.
This direction might have made us select one of the two people who have been confronting this effort, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn. The pair’s fight for the judiciary and its independence has been heroic, and the significance of what they are out to defend cannot be exaggerated.
However, the war imposed on them is still young, and their impact on its outcome remains to be seen. Surely, failure is no reason not to crown someone person of the year. Our person of the year 5775, for instance, was Alan Kurdi, the Kurdish child, whose body, swept ashore from a capsized refugee boat while still in shorts and sneakers, epitomized in all its morbidity Syria’s civil war.
When such negative person-of-the-year choices are avoided it is not because they are negative, but because a positive choice overshadows them. Fortunately, in 5780 such an alternative did emerge, a courageous statesman whose impact is set to outlast the pandemic angst and political despair that defined 5780.
EMIRATI Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) did not have to normalize his country’s ties with Israel.
Unlike Egypt and Jordan, his country does not border Israel, and unlike the former’s Anwar Sadat and the latter’s King Hussein, he and his country were never burdened by the costs that warring with Israel entailed.
Yes, the United Arab Emirates’ economy will benefit from an open relationship with Israel, but that country was rich already when Israelis first landed there 26 years ago, and is set to remain such with or without us.
And true, the UAE and Israel have been facing a common enemy for years, and it is an open secret that the two, along with the rest of the Persian Gulf states, have been coordinating their response to the confrontation that Iran’s ayatollahs have imposed on the Middle East.
Still, MBZ could have made do with launching lower-level relations with Israel, the way the Soviet Union and China did in the 1980s, back when they made the strategic choice to harmonize with the Jewish state. Despite this, the 59-year-old crown prince decided to go all the way and strike a full, open and unapologetic relationship with the Zionist enterprise.
MBZ’s move is therefore not about constraints.
It’s an impartial statement that the Jews belong in their ancestral land, that their conflict with the Palestinians need not be joined by the rest of the Arabs, not to mention the rest of the Muslims, and that 72 years of Arab defamation and ostracizing of Israel must end. That is why Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is our person of the year 5780.

The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.