‘To learn from the best’

Netanyahu has extraordinary political skills and cunning, but is his survival proof that what he does is really something worth learning from?

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz pass each other in the Knesset last year. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz pass each other in the Knesset last year.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Three weeks ago, Transportation Minister Miri Regev made the following statement in an interview with Yediot Aharonot: “I think that he [Benny Gantz] is not ripe to be prime minister... let’s see what happens in the next year and a half. We shall see if he will learn from the best [Benjamin Netanyahu] and will arrive ripe for the job.”
Regev was admonished for her insolent words by Netanyahu, after Gantz walked out of a meeting upon receiving notice about what Regev had said, and at least temporarily a crisis was avoided. However, this has not changed the fact that Regev is not the only person on the Right, along with many in the center and Left, who feel that Gantz is short on relevant experience to become prime minister in these stormy times. She is also not the only one in the Likud (but not necessarily in the rest of the Right) who believe Netanyahu is “the best,” and as long as he is up and going – irreplaceable.
Benny Gantz is not my ideal for prime minister. I did not vote for him, and find him to be lacking in charisma. However, I believe he is competent at running complicated systems. After all, he was chief of staff of the IDF, which also means that he has above average understanding in defense issues.
But above all, he does not suffer from most of the personal characteristics that make Netanyahu increasingly objectionable and even loathsome to many. One should also remember that when Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996 he had a lot of experience in Israeli hasbara (public diplomacy) in the US.
His only government experience was as deputy minister of foreign affairs in Yitzhak Shamir’s governments during the 12th Knesset (1988-1992), and as an especially inciteful leader of the opposition in part of the 13th Knesset (1993-1996). During the election campaign towards the 1996 elections there were many who argued that Netanyahu did not have sufficient governmental experience - i.e. that he was “not ripe.”
From history we may learn that previous political experience is not necessarily what makes a good prime minister, while total lack of experience is not necessarily an omen for an unsuccessful premiership.
One of the questions that emerges from Regev’s insolent comment is whether political leadership is something one may learn from others – including “others” whose policies and conduct do not tally with one’s own values and inclinations, rather than from personal experience. Another is whether Netanyahu is worthy of emulation.
No one doubts Netanyahu’s extraordinary political skills and cunning, which have turned him into Israel’s longest serving prime minister, and the idol of many blind supporters, who view him as a king who can do no wrong. But is his survival proof that what he does, and how he does it, is really something worth learning from, unless one’s own ambition is nothing more than political survival?
We all want Israel to prosper economically, and there is no doubt that at least until the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Israel prospered economically. However, before Gantz starts taking lessons from Netanyahu on how to run the economy in accordance with the neo-liberal principles that the latter believes in, he must take a look at the micro-aspects of the economic situation.
HERE HE WILL discover that while on the macro level Israel certainly has done very well (though, unlike Netanyahu’s claims, the growth rates during his years in power in no way surpassed those of previous eras); the gaps between the rich and the poor, and the privileged and “ordinary” folks, have grown; and the economic security of the average citizen has plummeted.
This emerged clearly during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. There are also several bluffs immersed in the claim of the major success of Netanyahu’s neo-liberal economic policy. The first is the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) society, which constitutes around 10% of the population but is not really part of the neo-liberal economy.
It flourishes on an extreme version of the welfare state, which no other section of the society enjoys, while contributing less to the economy than any other section of it.
The second bluff manifests itself in the fact that competition in the economy simply does not exist in many economic branches, with negative effects on efficiency and the cost of living.
In other words, it is not at all clear that Gantz should take economic lessons from Netanyahu.
And what about foreign affairs? We all want Israel to live in peace and security. But how? Certainly Netanyahu has run a very active, brazen, photogenic and personal foreign policy, in which the Foreign Ministry has hardly played an active role. The policy has been to strengthen ties with countries run by right-wing regimes, some of them led by bizarre leaders, whose attachment to reality is occasionally questionable.
Meanwhile, his policy neglects relations with, and pooh-poohs liberal regimes. All this is an attempt to thwart criticism of Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians; to stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability (with little if any visible success); and to get the world to recognize the united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the annexation of the Golan Heights, and now a partial annexation of Judea and Samaria. The only success has been with Donald Trump’s United States – a United States which in all likelihood will elect Joe Biden as president next November.
Netanyahu did gain some success in several Arab/Muslim states with which he managed to create overt relations (behind-the-scenes relations existed before). But now he seems willing to throw all this overboard in order to go down in history as he who dared annex territories, which no one since the Six Day War dared do. What is Gantz to learn from all this?
There is also very little, if anything, that can be learned from Netanyahu about how to cure the schisms in the Israeli society. Netanyahu, more than any other leader Israel has had, has contributed to these schisms by inciting against all those who disagree with him, or with whom he disagrees – Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu included.
In terms of personal conduct, Gantz certainly has nothing to learn from Netanyahu: not on sponging on billionaires and on the state; not on making promises that are invariably broken; not on trying to improve the media coverage of himself and his family by means of legally dodgy deals; not on refusing to take responsibility for his own misdemeanors, and doing everything possible to avoid being brought to justice; and not on his unbridled and crass attacks on anyone who contributes to the work of the law enforcement agencies involved in the legal case against him, or anyone with a shadow of ambition to replace him – including Gantz himself in the three last election campaigns.
But don’t worry, Miri. Benny Gantz will apparently never become prime minister, no matter what he will learn, or fail to learn from Netanyahu, simply because as things look at the moment, Netanyahu will not go through with the rotation, irrespective of whether Gantz is suitable or ripe to perform the job.