Of telephones, submarines and knowing when to leave

Netanyahu's corruption scandals are nothing new in the world of politics.

Prime Minister Netanyahu enters a meeting of the security cabinet, August 2017 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Netanyahu enters a meeting of the security cabinet, August 2017
Does anyone remember Ed Koch? He was the flamboyant Jewish mayor of New York City in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s who loved to ask the people “how my doing.”
Koch served for 12 years, which was four years too long.
During his first two terms, Koch brought the city back to life, redeeming it from the horrific years of John Lindsey – no snow plows in Queens – and Abraham Beam – the blackout of the century – 12 terrible years which were capped by president Gerald Ford’s turgid message to New York City, delivered in October 1975: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
But in his last term in office – years eight through 12 – the rot set in. Corruption ran amok and his closest and most trusted aides were indicted, prosecuted and convicted.
One of them even committed suicide.
Koch was never implicated in any wrongdoing. And because of his strong sense of his own moral fortitude – “there will be nothing because there is nothing” – Koch refused to retire from politics and rest upon his impressive laurels.
Instead, he cemented himself to his seat and kept an iron grip on the reins of power.
That is why in 1989 David Dinkins was elected to the mayoralty of New York City.
As we all know, despite being a man of impeccable integrity, Dinkins served without distinction and forfeited his seat after just one term to Rudolf Giuliani, who demonstrated in word and in deed that fascism works, at least at the sub-national sub-sovereign level.
As I learned a long time ago, analogies, like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder. And there is no way to equate the government of the unbounded but sovereign State of Israel to the bounded but non-sovereign City of New York, despite the fact that the latter may well be more “Jewish” than the former.
And yet, as a former New Yorker now living in the West Bank, I cannot escape the nagging sense that we ought to learn a lesson from the story of Ed Koch.
Like Mayor Koch, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an honest man who has nothing to fear from prosecutorial investigations. As Koch has taught us, “there will be nothing because there is nothing.” The worst you can say is that Netanyahu, like Koch and all other successful politicians, happily accepted meaningless gifts from their supporters or benefactors. And because Israel is neither a banana republic nor a third world country, the democratically elected government of the State of Israel will not be toppled by the unsavory stench of smoked cigars or the sweet taste of pink champagne mixed with pistachio ice cream.
Nor will the government fall because the prime minister engaged in shenanigans to improve his public posture by favoring one media outlet over another, no matter what Ari Harrow has to say.
But Netanyahu needs to understand that he has been in office for too long.
As we learned in New York City more than 30 years ago, a vibrant democracy cannot tolerate the same leader for more than eight years, no matter how competent and creative she may be. And what is true at the sub-national level is even more true at the national level. Eight years of Netanyahu was enough.
The media has told us repeatedly that Netanyahu is not a suspect in the Bezeq or submarine cases. And I have no reason to question their assertion.
But that is where the money is.
And while he is personally untainted by the presumed corruption he is politically implicated if only because the corruption occurred on his watch, indeed, during the years when he stretched his watch beyond the reasonable limits of any democracy.
As such, Netanyahu needs to decide if it is time for him to gracefully resign or if the order of the day commands him to hold on to power with an iron grip.
When faced with the same dilemma – dare I say the same Hobbesian choice – Ed Koch chose the latter. By so doing, he bequeathed to his beloved city four years of insufferable turmoil under the left-wing leadership of David Dinkins, during which the squeegee men made it impossible to even drive in Manhattan. And the Dinkins disaster was followed by eight years of Rudy Giuliani, whose right-wing megalomania was successful only because New York City is not a sovereign state.
Sooner or later Netanyahu will resign, if only because Israel is a democracy. If it happens sooner we will avoid the trauma which engulfed New York City following the years of the Koch administration. But if it happens later, the consequences already have names: Yair Lapid or Avi Gabbay, followed by Naftali Bennett.
Mr. Netanyahu, for the sake of the nation do it sooner rather than later.
The author teaches history at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg School for Overseas Students and is the rabbi at Minyan HaVatikim, which is located in the Rimon section of Efrat.