Jews just started reading the Torah’s third book, Vayikra (Leviticus). Although the book’s first word, “Vayikra,” majestically means “and God called,” it ends with a miniaturized aleph. This anomaly teaches that sometimes leaders should loudly and strongly project but sometimes, they should withdraw, be restrained or even choose silence.
For years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mastered Israeli politics by mastering that lesson. He knew when to loom large – in modernizing the economy, fighting Iran, engineering the Abraham Accords – and he knew when to shrink back – often dodging the most unsolvable social messes. Part Rambo and part artful dodger, he was the Muhammad Ali of Balfour Street, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. He drove his enemies crazy by thinking three steps ahead, never relenting and being Teflon-smooth.
But now watching Netanyahu blunder and bungle is astonishing. How could he not expect a big backlash after firing the Defense Minister, of all people? Watching him fail to anticipate how deep the anger was, chaotic his coalition seems and weak he’s making Israel look, it’s now clear: we finally found the only one who could defeat Netanyahu is Netanyahu himself.
How is Netanyahu defeating itself?
True, he’s being helped by arrogant coalition partners who overlooked Vayikra’s small, humbling ending. They are leading a complex, diverse, Jewish democracy in a hostile neighborhood by demonizing all Arabs, even our good friends in the Emirates; insulting our Jordanian neighbors with maps negating their existence; infuriating our American allies by abrogating the disengagement promises; calling even the mildest critics anarchists and traitors; passing oppressive laws; and using the Knesset as their personal bill-issuing machine, all while trying to bully through a lopsided recalibration of institutional powers. Then they, too, seem surprised that their crazy behavior drove so many Israelis crazy.
Netanyahu and his wild bunch just proved what we could call the Law of Checking the Unbalanced. The more unhinged our leaders’ actions, the more they prove the need to check them. If this government had schemed to confirm the average Israeli’s fears of just how irresponsible a government with a slim majority after five stalemated elections could be and how much Israel needs checks and balances, it could not have planned it better.
Heading this gang of political pyromaniacs is a prime minister who has many observers debating whether he is burnt out after years of pressure, brow-beaten by coalition zealots, clueless of the self-inflicted damage or so enraged by his indictment and this surprisingly effective opposition that he keeps flipflopping between flailing and floundering.
This beaten-down Netanyahu is sad yet terrifying. He looked pathetic while he kowtowed to Yariv Levin and Itamar Ben-Gvir, yet alarming when he punished Yoav Gallant . Netanyahu’s new, strange self-destructiveness is Shakespearean. He spent years stabilizing Israel and now he’s destabilized it. He supercharged the economy and now he’s weakened it.
He recognizes the Iranian Mullahs’ and Palestinian terrorists’ threats but he’s emboldened them. He boasts about his global credibility but risks becoming a pariah. He used to charm Americans and now they won’t welcome him in the White House. And he seems to be blowing up the Right’s long-sought judicial counter-revolution. All in three months.
Give Yoav Gallant the credit, give Yuli Edelstein the assist
GIVE YOAV Gallant credit for being willing to sacrifice his dream job to preserve our Zionist dreams. But give Yuli Edelstein the assist. Edelstein was the first Likudnik to listen and start resisting the Netanyahusta Bullies. Both Gallant and Edelstein showed they love Israel more than they love Likud’s command-and-control central committee of Netanyahu patsies.
They seem to understand that democracy does not just mean that those who win by a hair can do whatever they wish. Free countries are more multi-dimensional, requiring more nurturing. Having a bare majority is rarely enough so you should respect the opposition and listen to the silent majority. Moreover, the more dramatic the change, the more of a consensus you should cultivate.
It’s Democracy 101. One of Barack Obama’s biggest domestic misses was imposing Obamacare without any Republican support. Other Democratic reformers, including Franklin Roosevelt when he pushed Social Security and Lyndon Johnson when he championed civil rights, sweated to forge some bipartisan support. Obama’s arrogance scarred America and helped spawn Donald Trump’s presidency. How ironic that Netanyahu, Obama’s nemesis, tried replicating Obama’s failure even more destructively.
The opposition should behave responsibly, too. Suspend these demonstrations, the strikes and the reservist resistance as soon as possible. The Histadrut airport and mall lockdown seemed like a last-minute, unhelpful, destructive attempt at claiming relevance. Show balance and reasonableness – extreme opposition leaders haven’t. Trust mainstream Israelis to appreciate such constructive patriotism, undermining the crazies on both sides.
I remain convinced that most Israelis want the kind of balanced leadership only President Isaac Herzog has offered. Last Shabbat, close friends hosted a bar mitzvah getaway. For 25 hours, we prayed, sang and talked with the extended family and friends of this Moroccan-Kurdish intermarriage from Netivot. The 180 guests included Left and Right, religious and non-religious. But we all shared a love of the charming bar mitzvah boy, his wonderful family, our extraordinary tradition and our amazing, 75-year-old state .
We could have spent Shabbat yelling like our leaders choose to do. Instead, we muted our partisanship to celebrate the many cultural, spiritual, moral and political values, aspirations, structures and forces uniting us. Such unity won’t come from an opposition blinded by fury or zealots drunk on power. We need patriotic, tempered leadership, the kind Yoav Gallant just demonstrated, standing strong to pull back, Vayikra-style.
A Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University currently living in Jerusalem, Gil Troy is an award-winning American presidential historian and a leading Zionist activist. He is, most recently, the editor of the new three-volume set, “Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings,” the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People ( www.theljp.org ) . Two years ago he co-authored with Natan Sharansky Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, was published by PublicAffairs of Hachette. Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.
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Prof Gil Troy · 20 Derech Bet Lechem · Apt 2 · Jerusalem 9310925 · Israel