Tuesday, August 20, 2019 -
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Maybe it takes some ego and hubris

I feel a mix of many emotions about the news coming from Israel that the police will recommend that Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu be indicted.

With the PR war waged by the Israeli media, I understand this could be a case of a lot of smoke but no fire. Ultimately, the final word will come from Attorney General Mandelblit.

Of course, if the allegations against Netanyahu prove to be true, the time for him to vacate his seat as prime minister can’t come soon enough.

No one is above the law, not even a prime minister as savvy as Benjamin Netanyahu, who has devoted his life to fighting Israel’s fight, who has protected the security of the nation of Israel, played a key economic role in bringing Israel into the 21st century, and even risen to the status of a global leader.

However this investigation plays out, Netanyahu has secured his place in Jewish history.

But how sad that such a life and such a devoted public servant’s career could end in this way.

Often political leaders are riddled with flaws; Netanyahu certainly has his share.

If the press is right about what animates Bibi Netanyahu — a sense of entitlement, hubris, the pursuit of pleasures such as cigars — I believe this is below the stature of who a Jewish leader ought to be.

I have always admired the more modest Jewish leadership of the kind modeled by greats like David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

That said, flaws and all, Bibi Netanyahu, in his own right, is indeed one of the greats.

Who can forget how he withstood the pressure from President Obama in keeping Ben Gurion Airport open during a war? Who else could have held his own under that kind of pressure? Who can forget how, after the anti-Semitic terror attack in France, he risked his life, marching in Paris alongside world leaders? He practically had an invisible target painted on his face. And the examples are endless. After all, this is his fourth term as prime minister.

Which apparently has bred a lot of resentment and jealousy. He is meant to be a leader in a democracy, people say, not an emperor.

The fact is, Bibi won his fourth term, fair and square, in a democratic vote. The idea that toppling a democratically elected politician is the new method for change in Israel is simply disturbing.

I understand how four terms for one leader can be excessive. So then find an alternative. Cultivate other leaders who can lead as strongly and gain as much consensus and wide appeal among the electorate. Or, limit the premiership to two terms, as in the US.

But to make Netanyahu’s downfall an obsession, instead of accepting a democratic decision, is dangerous.

As I say, I make no excuses for Netanyahu. If he committed crimes, the courts will determine that. Corruption should not be tolerated in any Israeli leader, from the right or left.

When stories of Israeli political corruption surface, I find myself cringing in embarrassment. It upsets me to the core.

But make no mistake, if indeed Netanyahu will need to step down, it is nothing to celebrate. No one will be happier than Iran.

One of the galling aspects of this investigation these past 14 months has been the hypocritical self-righteousness on display.

I was in Israel when Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert had investigations launched against them, also for corruption. Not a peep from the leftist community in Israel was heard. No calls for demonstrations. No seething hatred, as is displayed against Netanyahu. No talk of corruption, morality and proper leadership. Nada.

I recall, with Sharon, when he suddenly switched political course, embracing a radical departure from his lifelong right-wing position on settlements, the switch was in part an attempt to deflect from the investigations and to court the left.

Not only was the investigation against Sharon muted in the press, but he was heralded as a centrist brave leader for his sudden political departure from his lifelong beliefs.

Somehow the moral accountability slipped by.

Same with Olmert, who became the first Israeli prime minister to go to jail.

What I am left worrying about is the implication of the flawed reality of politics, on the right and the left, in Israel or the US and elsewhere. If Netanyahu is indicted, might Israel’s next leader also be plagued by corruption or hubris — but lack Netanyahu’s fierce, effective leadership and protection of Israel?

Netanyahu’s brilliance and Jewish pride, his astonishing grasp of geopolitics, his sense of Jewish history and his analytical abilities, all coupled with a gift for clarity, confidence and eloquence in articulating Israel’s before the world — oh, and did I forget his sonorous baritone? —  are second to none. One recent example: his interview with Fareed Zakaria at the World Economic Forum.

Sometimes I wonder whether these flaws of Netanyahu as the press has painted them are true. I do take some of it with a grain of salt, because if Netanyahu were as shallow and hedonistic as he is made out to be, I believe he would have left politics long ago. The sums he could demand for speaking engagements alone, never mind international consulting, would net him so much money than his political positions.

He could amass enough cigars and champagne for 10 lifetimes, without working around the clock, as he does today. I also wonder whether Netanyahu’s flaws are perhaps part of what has made Netanyahu an outstanding leader in protecting Israel. Maybe as a friend or a business partner, these flaws would be infuriating, but maybe they serve Israel very well. We’re talking about the world’s only Jewish state, a tiny one, in the worst neighborhood in the world, with terrorists on her borders. Maybe it does take a certain amount of egotism and hubris to deal with Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Gaza, the PA, Syria, Lebanon and world powers like the US, China, Russia and India.

Flaws or no, what has driven Netanyahu is a great sense of mission that burns within him on behalf of the Jewish people’s security in their one and only Jewish state. Netanyahu has always stood proud as a Jew, conveying a sense of awe for the great burden of Jewish history that he has carried on his shoulders.

In truth, Netanyahu is not an emperor, and maybe it is time for some fresh leadership. To be sure, it will be a challenge to fill Netanyahu’s shoes, but I trust there are solid experienced public servants on both ends of the political spectrum. I also wonder whether many on the left might in the future wax nostalgic for the consensus-building road of Netanyahu if a more right-wing government should replace him.

For now, for his sake personally, but more crucially, for the sake of the Jewish people and Israel, I hope Netanyahu’s premiership does not end on this note of indictment.

Even if there is no indictment, this moment offer an opportunity to shine a light on important facets of true Jewish Israeli leadership.

I hope Netanyahu rides this one out until the proper conclusion of his term and that this whole drama will turn out to be a case of, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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