Could Israel’s largest political party, Likud Israel Beitenu, be on its way out?
With the elections for Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) only five days away, polls indicate a steady drop in support for the Binyamin Netanyahu and his ruling party. Few would deny that the winds of change are blowing strong throughout Israel.
If Likud Israel Beitenu were to lose its grip, what kind of exit will it choose to make? Will they be dragged out of power, kicking and screaming – the preferred path for a leading party that has lost its oomph? Or will the Likud leadership have the wisdom to bow out gracefully, and in doing so – find an innovative and fulfilling role as seasoned advisor to the new political order that is just now appearing on the horizon?
The answers to this questions rest with Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister and chairman of the largest faction-party in the Knesset, Israel’s single-house parliament.
Firing Wildly in All Directions
In its campaign strategy, the Likud has chosen to go straight for the jugular of a man and movement that they see as their greatest current threat to nearly four years of hegemony over Israeli politics. Their target is Naftali Bennett, the charismatic, young businessman-turned-leader of the once-stodgy National Religious Party, recently renamed as the Jewish Home Party.
In a 45-second YouTube video, the Likud takes aim with a double-barreled shotgun at Bennett and other members of his party, squeezing off shots in all directions.
The Likud’s YouTube clip on Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home
The caption, in Hebrew and Russian, reads:
“WHO REALLY IS HIDING BEHIND BENNETT?”
Watch as the cardboard likenesses of the young party leader are slammed down onto the table, one after another. And listen to the atonal background music that pumps out canned anxiety, a chilling accompaniment to the announcer as he spits out a barbed monologue.
No doubt about it: the Likud is running scared.
Why is the Likud so Frightened?
Recent polls have indicated that the Jewish Home may garner 16-plus Knesset seats in the upcoming election. The pundits say that most of the votes are coming from defecting Likud voters who are abandoning the Likud combina in droves.
The numbers give rise to the idea that the Jewish Home, led by the soft-spoken yet determined young Bennett – a former combat soldier and commander in one of Israel’s elite army units – may even morph into the Knesset’s second largest party, behind the Likud itself.
What is fueling the Likud’s unprecedented attacks on Bennett and the Jewish Home? The answer is obvious: Netanyahu, despite his longstanding claim to be the ‘leader of the national camp’ – is in reality neither a rightist, nor a real nationalist in the vein of his predecessors in the Likud. And Bennett’s candidacy is an in-your-face reminder of just how far the Likud has strayed from its original path.
Tenacious Political Survivor
Binyamin Netanyahu is the ultimate Likud survivor, holding leading positions in the party for nearly 30 years. The Likud (“Consolidation”) faction was hammered together in 1973 as an alliance of several right wing parties, and swept into power in 1977 under the stewardship of Menachem Begin. Netanyahu made his way up the party ranks, becoming Prime Minister when the Likud emerged as the winner of the elections of June 1996. He became chairman again in December 2005, and, following the elections of February 2009, was tapped to form the government where he has served as Prime Minister until now.
But the Likud under Netanyahu has increasingly adopted ‘pragmatic’ policies that stand in striking contradiction to the principles of the party founders. Netanyahu served as Foreign Minister and later Finance Minister under the Likud Government led by Ariel Sharon. In August 2005, he voted in favor of Sharon’s plan for dismantling and leveling Jewish communities in Gush Katif, though he later resigned from the Government. Sharon went ahead with his idea, handing off to Hamas for nothing in exchange areas that had been under our control since before the foundation of the State.
In the kind of irony that is endemic to Israeli politics, Bennett is now the bulwark to some of the Likud’s original red lines. He refuses to negotiate with terrorists whose charters and actions on the ground seek the elimination of the Jewish Nation; he is committed to ongoing support and expansion of Jewish communities throughout Judea and Samaria; and he will not cede pieces of the Jewish homeland to Israel’s enemies in exchange for empty promises of peace.
Different Men, Different Policies
Bennett promotes the development of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, the original heartland of Israel. Netanyahu, with his minister of defense, Ehud Barak, has spent the past four years dismantling and destroying them, taking his cues from international forces that he both fears and is in awe of: the United States leadership.
Bennett sees the idea of the ‘two state solution’ favored by America and other Western countries as an invitation to national suicide. Such a move goes against the most basic logic of any self-respecting nation in its own sovereign land. Netanyahu, like successive presidents in the White House, supports the surrender of large portions of the Land of Israel – which so far have only brought more, rather than less, violence.
Bennett’s Source of Inspiration
But most importantly, Bennett is backed by, and seems to believe in with complete faith, an organic system and philosophy of values and ideals that are shaped by genuine Jewish tradition. Netanyahu’s objectives, in contrast – judging from the vicious attacks he is now mounting on Bennett and the Jewish Home party – are to do whatever it takes to ensure his own political survival and that of his existing power base.
Bennett draws his vision from an ancient source: the words of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, who wrote down their visions of Israel’s future for posterity nearly 3,000 years ago. Known to nearly everyone, but actually read in detail by very few, this prophetic dream – to rebuild and revitalize a formerly barren land and people – stands at the core of the existence of the modern Israeli state. Bennett and those working with him understand implicitly that these visions of our Prophets were not just empty words. They are real, current, and alive and offer genuine hope to us – and the whole world.
Bennett exudes a positive self-confidence in a promising future. Could it be that the ideals he champions are just coming of age, while Netanyahu and his now no-longer-relevant positions may have lost relevancy a long time ago?
The Likud leadership is blind to the full story unfolding before their eyes. They are unable to adapt to an Israeli nation that is no longer crouching in the dark night of the exile, waiting for the next kick in the teeth.
Israel is Changing
Binyamin. Netanyahu has served the Nation of Israel as a soldier, statesman, and leader for more than four decades. These years were critical for ensuring the survival of the Jewish People in their land. But now, a new vision is entering the mainstream consciousness of the nation. We are no longer the world’s wandering Jews. We are the independent Nation of Israel in our God-given, ancient homeland.
Freed from the terrible curse of the Exile, the Jewish People no longer needs to manipulate players and resources behind the scenes and under the table in order to survive. We can now take our place alongside, and even at the head of, the other nations of the world. Our legitimate claims and aspirations now sit squarely on the table of international discourse, out in the open for all to see. We can now bring to bear on our relations with our neighbors in the region and peoples throughout the world our own brand of activist, morality-driven heritage without shame.
This is what Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home party offer the Israeli electorate. And it is precisely the bold vision that Bennett promotes that scares the daylights out of the Likud and its leaders, because they do not have what it takes to believe in what Israel can truly be.
Could the Old and the New Work Together?
Netanyahu, in a nod to the precedent established by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion, has recently revived that tradition of a weekly Bible-study at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. Were the Likud and those who lead it to find the inner courage to search for it, they too could find inspiration – and a way out of their quandary – within Israel’s great prophetic heritage. But is he prepared to take those ancient words and sentences seriously, as a model for action, rather than just a warm and fuzzy reminder of noble ideals that have been dead for millennia?
Let him study the words of Yoel (“Joel”) the son of Petuel, the Hebrew prophet who lived in the Land of Israel approximately 2,500 years ago. Yoel describes an idyllic and harmonious scenario of the future interaction between a younger generation of Israelis and their older counterparts: Yoel quotes God as speaking to the Nation of Israel:
The prophet quotes God as speaking to the Nation of Israel:
“And it will be, afterwards -
I will spill my spirit onto all people,
And your sons and daughters will prophesize.
Your elders – will dream dreams;
Your young men – will see visions.“
(The Book of Yoel, Chapter 3, Verses 1-2)
Yoel is describing a partnership, where the young and old dream together, making the transition from a wounded people in exile to a proud nation in its ancient ancestral land as easy as child playing with its parent.
Final Words from the Last of the Hebrew Prophets
Perhaps one day, in one of his Bible study sessions, Netanyahu will turn to the final words of Malachi, the last of the biblical Hebrew Prophets. Malachi concludes his short Biblical book with a reference to Eliyahu (Elijah) HaTishbi, an early Hebrew Prophet who waged a relentless propaganda war against Ahav (Ahab) King of Israel and his pagan wife, Eezevel (Jezebel). Eliyahu the Prophet is revered in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. He hailed from the village of Teshev in the Gilead region of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, in what is today called Jordan.
In his prophecy, Malachi brings God’s word to the Nation of Israel:
Here, I am sending you
Elijah the Prophet -
before the coming of the great and awesome
Day of God.
He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons,
and the hearts of the sons to their fathers …” (Malachi, Chapter 3, Verses 23-24).
Timna Nature Preserve, The Negev, Israel
Israeli Musicians are Leading the Way
Arik Sinai is a popular and iconic Israeli musician. He is a giant of the old guard of Israeli rock. Generations of Israelis have come to love his soft, folksy, gentle version of quintessentially Israeli rock since he released his first album in 1980.
Recently, Sinai has taken to singing alongside a rising young star of the current Israeli musical scene, Yoni Genut. Together, they recently released a video that show us all how it can be done:
Arik Sinai (L) and Yoni Genut (R)
Is it conceivable that Netanyahu could dream new dreams along with a younger generation of Israeli leaders, as effortlessly as Sinai and Genut do together?
To quote the words of the founder of Modern Zionism, Binyamin Zev (Theodore) Herzl: “If you will it, it need not be [just] a dream.”