Last Friday night, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett offered a short “Dvar Torah” teaching to launch the impromptu Washington DC Shabbat with stranded aides and reporters, caused when President Joe Biden postponed their summit. The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov reported that Bennett concluded, with ten minutes to go before the Sabbath would begin. On the spot, Bennett then wisely chose to address the theme of this season – repentance.
But from whom could he learn? After all, 5781, has been the Year of the Un-Apology.
Bennett could not learn from his host Joe Biden. Biden is the Dismisser of the Year, pooh-poohing charges that he and his staffers mismanaged America’s Afghanistan retreat.
In an interview last Wednesday. Biden praised the evacuation of Americans and Afghanis, vowing: “We’re gonna get those people out.”
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos objected : “We’ve seen those hundreds of people packed into a C-17. You’ve seen Afghans falling…”
Biden cut him off: “That was four days ago, five days ago.”
Actually, it was nine days earlier that Zaki Anwari, the teenage Afghani soccer star, fell to his death after holding on to a US airplane taking-off. Still, that’s not what Stephanopoulos was asking – or Americans needed to hear.
Bennett also ignored Biden’s disgraced Democratic colleague, Andrew Cuomo, the Great Denier of the Year. Feigning surprise that women dislike being grabbed, objectified, and hounded by their boss, New York’s ex-governor complained: “I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn, there are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate.” Sounding like he was born in 1927 not 1957, Cuomo echoed the legions of guilty men who blame the new rules on the Me-Too movement of October, 2017.
But who believes that Cuomo grew up with three sisters, graduated from law school, and socialized in liberal New York, without encountering feminism – let alone basic human decency? He expects us to forget that in 1981 everyone was talking about Nine to Five, that Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton movie confronting “male chauvinist pigs” like their handsy boss, played by Dabney Coleman.
And he overlooks America’s nationwide seminar on sexual harassment in October, 1991, when Anita Hill claimed that her old boss and George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, spoke dirty to her at work, repeatedly. That fight ended the forever-weak “I didn’t know” excuses. Since then, it’s been clear: behavior which a few might reward in bars has no place in the office.
Bennett certainly wouldn’t imitate his rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s Un-Artful Dodger of the Year responded to the criminal charges against him with a contradictory “whataboutism.” After pleading “not guilty,” Netanyahu claimed that it’s legal to trade positive media coverage for lucrative governmental favors. But, he added – and “what about” everyone else who does it – implying that his actions were criminal, just widespread.
Netanyahu proves how self-destructive all this dismissing, denying, and dodging is. Had he accepted the presidential pardon many of us begged him to take in exchange for retiring from politics, he could have avoided trial – and left Israel’s right-wing and Hareidi parties with a 75-seat majority. That’s why I tell left-wing friends to thank Bibi in their prayers – his arrogance saved them from the conservative government most Israeli voters chose.
Finally, Bennett would never take morality lessons from the most outrageous unapologizer, The Demonizer of the Year, Donald Trump. Trump bellows: I’m not guilty, you’re guilty. His description of January 6 is delusional. “The crowd was unbelievable” with “love in the air,” he recently told Fox News . When pressed about the violence that nevertheless menaced Congress, Trump deemed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats “responsible”: They were unprepared for the violence.
If Bennett-the-mensch were less modest, he could have offered himself as a role model. When Barel Shmueli z”l, the border policeman a Gaza terrorist murdered, was still fighting for his life, Bennett called Barel’s father Yossi, to comfort him. Confused, Bennett asked Yossi about “Yossi” not Barel.
I believe Bennett’s mistake reflected his sincerity. Shiva calls are often unnerving: imagine calling a stranger in such distress, as his dying son endures multiple surgeries.
When the family complained, Bennett took full responsibility, immediately. He apologized for this “honest mistake… from the bottom of my heart.” Repeating himself, Bennett wished the Shmuelis strength while expressing “regret for offending them.”
In the Sabbath spirit, Bennett instead reached back to that well-known Biblical sinner King David. As Lazar Berman reported in Times of Israel , Bennett asked “why David, whose sins seemed far greater than his predecessor Saul’s, was still deemed worthy of leading the Israelites?”
Bennett concluded: “A leader is not meant to be perfect. We all have flaws. In the end, the question is, do you take responsibility? Do you do what is right, or do you just do what the people say?”
Un-Apologists shirk responsibility, whether it’s The Dismisser, saying “I’m not guilty – the problem solved itself,” The Denier saying “I’m not guilty – You’re changing the rules on me,” The Dodger saying “I’m not guilty – it’s not a crime – but you do it too,” or The Demonizer, barking “I’m not guilty — You’re guilty.”
This Slichot – Repentance – Season, as we apologize collectively and individually, let’s let Prime Minister Bennett’s humility and sagacity guide us. May we go from denying to acknowledging, from dismissing to accepting, from dodging to taking responsibility, and from demonizing to loving — or at least learning from — those who disagree with us.
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 newly-released 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.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.