At the dawn of 2020, Israel was contending with critical threats on three fronts: health and healthcare, economic and governmental. Of the three threats, the third holds menacing consequences for the future of the country. It is also what differentiates Israel from the other countries of the world, all of which are dealing with their own perils from coronavirus. At the heart of Israel’s governmental crisis stands the prime minister, a man who was indicted on charges of bribery and fraud. Ironically, it might be the very health and economic crises — caused by the second wave of coronavirus infections — that rescues Israel from the governmental threat.
In May it looked like Israel was emerging from the coronavirus crisis healthcare threat and starting to return to normal. With each new day, we saw the number of new cases and deaths decline. Most of the restrictions were lifted after many weeks of a suffocating shutdown that culminated on the eve of the Passover holiday. And, with painstaking difficulty and after three General Elections, a new government was finally formed under the leadership (yet again) of Netanyahu.
Recently I met with a public servant who found himself playing a central role in battling Israel’s first wave of coronavirus. I said, “It was clear as day that if the coronavirus wasn’t beaten it would be your fault, and if it was beaten, the success would be Netanyahu’s.” And that was how it seemed to go. When we thought Israel had beaten coronavirus, Netanyahu announced that Israel is ‘a light unto the nations’, and on May 26 called on Israelis to “go out and have fun!” And Israelis heeded by celebrating and returning enthusiastically to restaurants, event halls, and pubs.
Then came the second wave.
The second wave that struck at the start of July found Israelis exasperated. Having been blamed by officials for lack of self-control and care, they lost faith in their government and the decision-makers, watching their financial situations deteriorate, dealing with the irritating heat and humidity of the Israeli summer, and, most of all, seeing no end in sight from any of the threats.
At this point, the dangerous combination of despair, fear, frayed nerves, lack of faith in the leadership, lack of hope, and, most of all, economic adversity and uncertainty, began to drive cross-party protest movements. Now, in the middle of July, these protests are still independent, with different agendas and with very little uniting them. But that could change quickly and transform the political reality.
When I heard my friend E, a well-known businessman and thought leader, publicly call on Netanyahu to resign, I knew that heralded a tectonic change. No longer were attacks on the Prime Minister coming, as is traditional, only from the political opposition. Now they are coming from the right as well. These protests have nothing to do with our Palestinian neighbors, or with questions of annexation or withdrawal from territories. That is not what occupies the minds of Israelis at this moment.
The burning issues at the heart of the protests are questions such as: Who owns this country? Who does it exist for? Who is serving whom? Who is capable and worthy of leading Israel?
What defines a leader? Moses is considered the greatest leader the Jewish People have ever known. When seeking a model of true leadership, we should look to Moses.
In Numbers 27:12-14, God decrees that after 40 years of leading the Israelites in the desert, just before their long-awaited entrance into the Promised Land, Moses will not be among those privileged to enter the Land of Israel:
“And God said to Moses, ‘Go up to Har Ha’Abarim and look upon the land that I have given to the Israelites. And you will see it and be gathered unto your people, just as I gathered in Aharon your brother. Because in the wilderness of Zin, when the congregation was contentious, you disobeyed my command to uphold my sanctity in their eyes by means of water.’ These were the waters of Meriva-Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.”
And how does Moses respond to his God when this verdict is handed down? Does he complain? Blame others? Shirk responsibility?
On the contrary. Moses responds as a leader whose one and only concern is the welfare of his people. He wants to be reassured that after him, the people will have a worthy leader.
“And Moses said to God, ‘May God the source of the spirit of all flesh appoint someone over the community, who will go forward ahead of them and will take them out and bring them in, so the community of God will not be like a flock without its shepherd.”
In these days of crisis and change, it behooves Israelis to aspire to leaders in the model of Moses. Leaders who first and foremost are concerned and driven by the needs of the citizens, and future of the country instead of with themselves, their families and friends. Conceivably the second wave of coronavirus will open our eyes.