Nahum Barnea

The smell of fear

Nothing more dangerous to PM than conveying sense that he’s afraid

The government was set to approve Sunday a decision that most ministers believe to be outrageous, wasteful, and needless. An overwhelming majority among the public thinks the same. Nonetheless, the decision was expected to be taken.


Seemingly, it’s a minor story. Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon needs an emergency room. Ancient graves, likely belonging to non-Jews, were discovered at the site slated for the emergency room’s construction. The two chief rabbis agreed to relocate the graves yet their ruling was not accepted by radical haredi rabbis. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman follows these rabbis’ edicts.


As result, the government is about to spend roughly NIS 90 million (approximately $25 million) from the health budget on building the emergency room a few hundred meters away from the hospital. There is no guarantee that ancient graves will not be discovered in the new site, prompting the emergency room’s construction to be relocated again, for the third time.


The readers may shrug this story off: It’s just another tale, one of many, about radical haredim taking over our lives. There’s a limit to how much one can cry out or be shocked. However, this story is not only about the haredim, but rather, about the way Benjamin Netanyahu runs his government. This is merely the tip of the iceberg; it’s only an allegory.


After a year in office, mostly devoted to survival, there’s room for asking about Netanyahu’s character. Is he a prime minister or a visiting guest? Does he possess a worldview, priorities, and decision-making abilities? What does this man want, people in every world capital are asking at this time. Does he even want something, aside from returning every evening to the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, surrounding by an army of bodyguards?


The grave problem at the Ashkelon hospital could have been resolved in the typical Israeli way. Fifteen months ago, Ashkelon was facing a war. The IDF struck Gaza, and Ashkelon, including its hospital, were targeted by daily rocket barrages. Someone – the hospital’s director or one of his aides – should have ordered a bulldozer back then, removed the graves, and explained away the regrettable error by the hospital’s fortification needs.


Fear a bad advisor

This is how grave problems in Israel have been solved for 61 years now. Everyone would have thanked him deep in their heart – even haredi politicians. Regrettably, the opportunity was missed.


Now, Netanyahu faces this quandary. The problem is that he is scared to rock to boat. He is scared to rock it when Avigdor Lieberman causes colossal damages to Israel’s status in the world; he is scared to rock it when Eli Yishai undermines our ties with the US Administration; he is scared to rock it when the haredim prefer the peace of the dead over the health of the living.


“They are scared,” Netanyahu once said, on the eve of one of his election defeats. Yet the truth is that he is scared.


Fear is a bad advisor. The Jerusalem affair example is just as good as the hospital example. For months now, Netanyahu’s representative attorney Yitzhak Molcho, has been engaged in quiet negotiations on the Jerusalem issue with Senator George Mitchell, President Obama’s envoy. Netanyahu was scared to anger the Right. Hence, Molcho told Mitchell that the PM would not be able to declare a construction freeze in east Jerusalem.


However, Netanyahu was also scared of angering the Americans. Hence, Molcho promised Mitchell there will be no announcements of new construction in east Jerusalem. The result exploded in the face of Vice President Joe Biden last week.


As result of his struggle not to quarrel with or anger others, Netanyahu angers everyone: The Americans, the Right, the Left, and eventually the haredim too. Everyone smells his fear. There is nothing more dangerous for a prime minister than this smell; the smell of fear.


פרסום ראשון: 03.14.10, 18:19
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