As an American, I don’t have a vote in the upcoming Knesset elections next March. As a Zionist, supporter of Israel and political news junkie I do have an opinion and from my perch I think in this case I am not alone.
I grew up in a generation when Israeli leaders were venerated either because of their heroic bona fides or because of a much shorter news cycle. It really doesn’t matter. The fact is that since 1973, Israeli leaders were shown to be quite fallible. What made Prime Ministers Ben Gurion through Begin so great was that they conveyed to the Israelis, to Jews and to the world that the State of Israel was far more important than their own careers.
Begin, died a lonely old man in self-imposed isolation. Known forever for breaking with his ideology and ceding land to an Arab country in favor of peace, he was depressed over the mistake that was the 1982 Lebanon war that saw the death of more Israeli soldiers than any of the prior ones. Golda Meir exited the stage after bungling the warnings of the upcoming Yom Kippur War. None of them thought Israel could withstand the trauma of an attempted comeback. In other words, they got it.
Bibi is a completely different animal. His greatest achievement seems to be holding onto power despite numerous bungling and doing very little to improve the state of his state. While he may have satisfied some perverse right wing fantasy by bitch slapping President Obama in front of the world from the Oval Office, he did more damage to Anglo-Israel relations than any Israeli, ever. The income gap is as wide as it has ever been in Israel. There is an oligarchy of a few families that control most of Israel’s business, a process started when he was finance minister and he gave away government assets to his cronies. The start-up nation started before Bibi and will continue way after he’s been put to pasture. The few diplomatic achievements under his watch, better relations with India and China are despite Bibi, not because of him. Finally, the myth that he can keep Israel safer than anyone else was dispelled by last summer’s Gaza war. Israel may have won the battle, but Bibi’s only victory was not getting kicked out of office after the Gaza tunnels proved to be much worse than Mr. Security promised his people they were.
If you follow the Israeli news sites on a regular basis you know that Bibi spends more on ice cream for the prime minister’s residence than the budgets of some of his departments. His wife Sara is a cross between Marie Antoinette and Imelda Marcos. He is so insecure and he makes the environment so uncomfortable for his most talented deputies they leave him in droves. His largest constituency seems to be some right wing Zionists (most have defected to more extreme parties), Evangelical American Christians and the US congress that covets their votes.
For sixty six years Israel was known as the Jewish State but in the most transparent political ploy, Bibi seeks legislation enshrining Israel’s Jewish character at the expense of its liberal democratic values. This last coalition that he lead despite not getting the most seats, opened an opportunity for him to finally reverse the injustice of Orthodox religious hegemony over citizenship, conversion, religious egalitarianism and life cycle events because no religious parties were invited in. Instead, he chose to punt guaranteeing another generation of bigotry and alienation of the non Orthodox.
I’m not a pollster or a pundit but like a shark in the water I smell blood. Bibi the big shot called elections because he thought it would guarantee him another term. His slam-dunk might lead to a huge upset. I don’t know if charisma-less Isaac Herzog can lead the left of center out of years of exile but he has a good shot and try as he might, Bibi won’t be able to paint him as an irresponsible lefty. I do know that most of us lovers of Israel will not cry if Israel and thus Jews in general have rid themselves of that hot air balloon who once showed so much promise, so much talent but ended up being so typically ordinary.