It’s time for self-examination, Mr. Prime Minister
Op-ed: In the midst of the High Holy Days, does Netanyahu reflect on what happened to the man he used to be? Is his wall of cynicism and constant preoccupation with survival ever penetrated by different thoughts? Like regret, remorse, shame and a recognition that this is not how he hoped things would turn out.
He has been serving as prime minister for eight consecutive years. He has been a key player in the political system for more than 20 years. His influence on many facets of our lives cannot be overestimated. He holds immense power, power to build and power to destroy. He heads a stable government, holds a coalition that is preserving itself and won’t allow elections, and the polls show that even if were to go to elections today—Benjamin Netanyahu would remain prime minister.
Is Netanyahu engaging in introspection these days, in the midst of the High Holy Days? Is the wall of cynicism and constant preoccupation with survival penetrated occasionally by different thoughts? Like regret, remorse, shame, a desire to seek forgiveness, a recognition that this is not what he wanted, that this is not how he hoped things would turn out.
Does he ever consider repentance, not in the religious sense but in the moral sense? Does the prime minister ever reflect on what happened to the man he used to be? To the Benjamin Netanyahu who was raised in the liberal, democratic and cultural home of Tzila and Benzion Netanyahu—people with commitment and respect for history, culture, universal values. And today, he incites against the legal system, urges people to protest outside the Supreme Court chief justice’s home, allows racist, fascist, undemocratic legislation, backs shallow statements, fails to disassociate himself from the fiery style, organizes support rallies for himself and delivers divisive speeches.
Does he ask himself how, instead of the people he regards highly—like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Michael Eitan—he is surrounded by people like Miri Regev, David Bitan, Miki Zohar. These are people who, in the past, he would have despised and stayed away from and whose sycophancy he would have mocked. But today he praises and glorifies them, encourages them to approach the media and speak on his behalf and rant on his family’s behalf, and avoids condemning them when they do things he would have been shocked at in the past.
What happened to the man of the world, who was raised on the tenets of American democracy? The man who understood the importance of free press and media and knew how to use it like an artist. How is it possible that this man threatens media organizations and journalists, cynically appoints Ayoob Kara as the communications minister, threatens elections over a public broadcasting corporation, changes his mind again and again—and all this as part of his survival efforts?
In these days of self-examination, is the prime minister thinking about his father? What would his intellectual father, the man of letters, have to say about the people his son is surrounding himself with? What would he have to say about his son, who associates himself with world leaders but is surrounded by shallowness, who is motivated by feelings of paranoia and suspicion, whose good friends are the stars of gossip columns, whose relations with millionaires are based on give and take—mainly take, and mainly luxury products, cigars, champagne, jewelry, to match his extravagant lifestyle? What would Tzila and Benzion, who always lived a modest life, think about their son and daughter-in-law’s way of life?
And what does he think his father, the historian, would have to say about his 25-year-old grandson, who is living at the state’s expense or—even worse—at the expense of tycoons, who is posting racist and disgraceful comments and cartoons afflicted with anti-Semitism? What would he have to say about his grandson’s laziness, exploitation and lack of discretion, and about his son’s weakness and inability to put an end to his family’s embarrassing behavior? Does Netanyahu sometimes say to himself, deep in his subconscious, that it’s a good thing his father isn’t seeing all this? The greed, the hedonism, the behavior of a person who thinks he’s entitled to everything, while the streets are blocked by disabled people begging for minimum wage and while Holocaust survivors cry silently over their disgraceful living conditions.
What would happen if his father were still alive? Would the man who once said in an interview that his son is unfit to be prime minister, and would make a good foreign minister at the most, scold him over the way he is leading the country? Would he be the one to point out that the emperor has no clothes?
And what would his parents have to say about the way Knesset members from their son’s party treat bereaved parents or parents whose sons are missing? What would they have to say about their son’s weak response in light to the disrespect, the scorn, the lack of empathy?
How would they react to the mass support rallies and the inciting speeches of the son they raised? Even they, who lives as outsiders, who resented the establishment and the way they were treated by the state, would be ashamed of the wretchedness and shallowness of these horror shows, of the hollow and vindictive speeches hitting people and the entire public below the belt.
And what would his father have to say about the corruption affairs threatening his son’s term? And about the way he is willing to launch a war against all the systems whose importance and contribution he is well aware of, just so he could save his skin. If Benzion Netanyahu were alive, would his son dare risk all the things he used to believe in, just so he could bend these systems?
Does the prime minister have the time these days to engage in the self-examination of a person who has been in power for the past eight years but has failed to march us toward a better future? A person who has caused the Israeli public, or at least a large part of it, to lose hope. While the Palestinians are hoisting one flag after another in international institutions, we are progressing by leaps and bounds toward a binational or apartheid state.
There will be no more uprooting of communities, Netanyahu said last week in the controversial ceremony marking 50 years since the liberation—or occupation—of the West Bank. It’s not the way to achieve peace, said the expert peacemaker, who has been avoiding any opportunity for progress in the negotiations for the past eight years. What’s the way to achieve peace, Mr. Netanyahu? Why, you have even turned up your nose at the initial plan for a peace agreement, which the man you have pinned all your hopes on—the American president—wants to present us with. You see it as an imposition.
In the years you have been sitting on this important seat, have you ever considered what could actually be done, rather than how to avoid doing things? How to stop any initiative, from an international conference to a return to direct negotiations. And you had your chances. Windows of opportunity have been opened. You’re the one who slammed them shut. You could have gained people’s support. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who would have been willing to take this move with you. The evidence can be found in the empty chairs, in the absence of Supreme Court representatives, of the chief of staff, of the opposition, of the US ambassador and many others from the Gush Etzion event.
Instead of constantly looking to the right, toward Bayit Yehudi Naftali Bennett, and trying to appear more rightist than he is, you should have opened your eyes and heart to a huge camp located in the center—yes, in the center—and led it. That public wants security too. That public is also looking at reality through sober eyes. That public is also unwilling to desert its country. These are the common people, who serve in the army and pay taxes, who see the Supreme Court as a supreme value, who simply want the state they dreamed of. A Jewish and democratic state. The State of Israel, not the State of Judea. But leading this public requires an act of leadership, a strong backbone, perseverance, ignoring background noises, a conscientious and moral outlook. Everything you don’t have.
What were you thinking, Netanyahu, as you stood there, in front of the empty gallery, and saw that the stage in these jubilee celebrations was occupied by only one side? Did you see it as a sign of a torn society, of the rift between right and left, Haredi and secular Jews, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, a rift which has only grown deeper on your watch?
In your self-examination, Mr. Prime Minister, are you telling yourself that you missed an opportunity? You could have made history as a prime minister who marched the state forward, not as someone who kept sitting on the fence, satisfying your coalition partners’ appetite.
Even your government’s achievements, like the Haredi draft law, were cancelled the following term by your own government. I wonder what your father, the father of three combat soldiers whose son was killed in a bold operation, would have to say about your complete surrender to the Haredim. Or what he would have to say about your treatment of Reform Judaism, which the majority of US Jews belong to, which your family was affiliated with for so many years, and about the rift you managed to create. Because of your weakness, because of your lack of leadership.
These are days of self-examination, personal self-examination and national self-examination. The Israeli public is extremely content, according to polls conducted ahead of the Jewish New Year. Is there really room for content? Is this what we were hoping for on the state’s 70th year—a controversial celebration of the 50th anniversary of Judea and Samaria’s liberation?
Do trips all over the world and fiery speeches atone for what is happening inside, among your people? The deep feeling of frustration and despair among such a large public. The growing gap between what we hoped our country would be and what it is.
What do you say to yourself, Mr. Prime Minister, when you engage in self-examination? Are you aware of the short time you have left in office? A year and a half at best, and only if you insist on holding onto your seat in light of the suspicions and maybe even an indictment. Is this how you wish to leave office, with a black cloud casting a shadow on all your years in power? Is this how you would like to be remembered, as a prime minister who is repeatedly led to courts, who heads cabinet meetings under heavy suspicions, who refuses to relinquish his seat at all costs, even at the cost of the state and the people’s best interest?
It’s time for self-examination, personal and national self-examination. Your self-examination, Mr. Prime Ministers, and ours.