If I am to define what leadership is and what the common denominator is of leaders throughout history, I can confidently say that it is their faith in the justice of their cause, combined with the understanding that it comes at a considerable cost.
Every politician comes to a critical turning point in his career where he must decide if he is just a politician or if he will take advantage of his political platform in order to lead his people to a better place. There’s no doubt that last week we witnessed a brilliant political move. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strengthened his government and brought an additional 28 Knesset members into his coalition without distributing portfolios (so far), effectively postponing elections for a considerable time.
While the political motives of this move are obvious to most, if we allow ourselves, even for a moment, to believe the rhetoric of Netanyahu and Mofaz, who claim that the creation of a broad coalition government could bring about significant change and social reform, we can see clearly that Netanyahu has set himself up for a test of leadership.
Moses as an allegory
Netanyahu’s test of leadership revolves around the question of whether he is capable of finally breaking the status quo that was established by Ben-Gurion. That original sin, what we call the “Great Compromise,” has led to severe distortions in Israeli society that we still live with today: the unequal burden of national service; the total religious monopoly of essential services such as marriage and burial; and giving disproportionate power to non-governmental sectarian sectors.
What does Netanyahu’s test resemble? In the Torah, we learn that the people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years because of their sins and lack of faith, and that only when a generation was born and lived in the harsh desert conditions (though they couldn’t imagine any other reality) did Moses demonstrate his remarkable leadership and say, “Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward” (Deuteronomy 2:3). Although the exodus from the desert was accompanied by huge challenges, struggles and wars (and Moses himself did not benefit from his decisions) he proved himself to be an exceptional leader – the nation arrived to a better place, and the rest is history.
Facing a historic opportunity
So, will Netanyahu manage to pass the leadership test and guide us to a better place? Or will we continue “going around the mountain”? Undoubtedly, this is a historic opportunity for him to establish decisive change, though I don’t believe it is possible in a way that will find favor with all the members of the current coalition. You can’t please members such as Israel Beitenu on the one hand, and the ultra-Orthodox parties on the other. The religious parties will have to leave the coalition in order for true social change to be achieved. Will Netanyahu — with all of the implications — be ready to reach this point? Only time will tell.
We need to wait patiently and remember to ask ourselves, before the next elections come, whether Bibi did has indeed withstood the test of leadership, or whether he is just another politician. I hope he will surprise us.