The postman knocks twice: How galling it must be for the PM

Walking in Netanyahu's shoes.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, 2018 (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, 2018
Put yourself In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoes.
He speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, the heads of the two greatest powers, as an equal. He is treated with respect by President Xi of China, the rising world power that one day may outpace and replace both the United States and Russia.
Then he comes back home. His wife is to stand trial, he is under investigation and his private finances require a special law to be passed. He comes to a meeting of the once nationalist-liberal Likud.
He has to sit with cabinet ministers under investigation and a big-bellied bigmouth party whip who resigned under investigation. He presides over those ministers not suspected of ill-doing together with the suspects, with a loudmouthed former military spokesperson who announced what her next job will be, a brilliant justice minister who may overshadow him in the future, and ministers plotting to denigrate or inherit him as soon as… Then he meets with the members of his party. The only true heir of the Jabotinsky- Begin liberalism abstains from supporting him on what Netanyahu calls a pivotal and historic piece of legislation which, among other things, defines “Hatikvah” as our national anthem.
The originator of the bill, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman and fellow Likud member Avi Dichter, adheres to a special school in Israeli politics.
His thinking probably is “What the hell. The Israeli Arabs in their hearts would prefer not to see a Zionist state exist, and are waiting for the moment to activate a fifth column.” He therefore creates a fascist-type racist bill, which spits in the face of 20% of Israeli citizens – including those loyal Druze, Bedouin and the few Christian Arabs who serve or have served in the IDF, as well as all well-meaning members of the Muslim and Arabic-speaking population.
Dichter unwittingly demotes their language – which is actually an insult to the Holy Book of Islam – but for a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), he should be writing that the crown of the Arabic language is the Quran.
There is a Yiddish expression, not applicable to Dichter, that when a fool throws a stone into a pond, even 10 wise men cannot remove it. But Dichter is not a fool.
COULD NETANYAHU not back the bill once Dichter revived it – with Naftali Bennett’s ultra-right-wing party breathing down his neck? Imagine the headline, “Bibi against Jewish state bill!” He had no choice except to swallow his bile, and sanctify himself above the Bennettfiters.
Netanyahu, whom I have more than once criticized – and have praised as well for his connection with Putin – has done great service to Israel on the Syria and Iran issues. He can rescue his name by introducing legislation reinstating Arabic as an official language of Israel.
He can even suggest a new verse in Arabic or Hebrew which expresses loyalty to Israel without Zionist terminology for those Arabs who wish to sing “Hatikvah.”
About a dozen countries have changed or added words – and even stanzas – to their national anthems.
Both Netanyahu’s father and former prime minister Menachem Begin would certainly laugh at the idea that the rival heirs to the anti-Zionist Agudat Yisrael (“United” Torah Judaism, and Degel Hatorah) made possible a majority adopting “Hatikvah” as a national anthem. I am sure that if they sing it at all, the words are likely Psalm 126 (When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion).
I have been told that Dichter’s eight-year-old proposal was brought forward now because “there was a propitious coalition for passing it.” Yes, a propitious coalition made up of parties which oppose military service for their members, don’t mouth the words to “Hatikvah,” and have more leaders and members under investigation than ever before in our 70-year history.
If I had written in my own name the following words in this column, the editor would probably have stricken them.
But the prophet Isaiah is the one who said them: “How like unto a harlot has my faithful city become. Once it was full of justice… Your ministers are friends of thieves; everyone loves bribes... they judge not the fatherless, neither does the cause of the widow come to them… “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return to her with righteousness.”
That was in the sixth century BCE, 2,600 years ago. We haven’t progressed much, have we? BUT LET’S put ourselves in Netanyahu’s shoes. His critics claim he will do anything to stay in office. But I imagine he would counter that by saying, “Only I have the clout to rally the world against Iran, only I have the eye-to-eye relationship with the president of the two superpowers, and clout with the third, China, as well. So what the coalition and its members, so what the Diaspora chants against me, so what the LGBT protests. Full speed ahead, because the safety of Israel is my prime concern and I can best do the most to ensure it.”
I understand this, but the prime minister is also responsible for the kind of country this is becoming in order to pay that price.
In an off-the-record conversation with a person in the loop, I was reminded that the Knesset is “sovereign.” According to the Knesset website, though, that sovereignty is balanced: “Within the framework of the Israeli democratic system, in which there is a separation of powers among the legislature, the executive branch and the judiciary, the Knesset is the legislative branch, with the exclusive authority to enact laws.” That seems to say that it is not sovereign. Even the British parliament, which is sovereign, is bound by a supreme court – and until the final Brexit, with European Union regulations and its courts.
The reaction I received to my inquiries were more or less, “Well, so what if the attorney-general opposes the bill – attorneys-general come and go.” So do Knessets, and the bill can be changed by 61 different Knesset members.
BUT EVEN worse than that was the fulsome statement by Bayit Yehudi’s Nissan Slomiansky, if I heard correctly on Kol Yisrael news. He said words to the effect that: “Now, finally, we can pass legislation that places the state above the individual.”
The state above the individual. Now who else said that? In similar words, this was stated by Mussolini. Also, since the party and the state are equal in both national socialism and communism, the party was above all, and the state could do anything its leader wanted. There were no individual rights.
I do not think Slomiansky is either a fascist or a communist. He simply does not know what democracy is. And given masses of voters who were accustomed in their countries of origin to a non-democracy and who do not believe in the equality of humankind, we have a problem.
Just as Netanyahu has acted for Israel’s security in the field of foreign relations, he can stem the stampede towards an undemocratic Israel. An Israel that is open, pluralistic and cares for the stranger, the fatherless, the widowed.
The term “judges” in the Bible often meant “leaders.” Mr. Netanyahu, after the forthcoming election, seek other partners who can right the wrongs of this “propitious coalition.” Then, sir, let us begin to see the realization of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the beginning: afterward you shalt be called The City of Righteousness, The Faithful City.”
The writer has lived in Israel for 66 years and served in the offices of former prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol. He was a member of the World Zionist and Jewish Agency Executive for 10 years as World Chairman o Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.