Dmitri Shufutinsky
Dmitri Shufutinsky

Israel Needs a New Prime Minister

While the next elections in Israel are supposed to take place in 2019, some MKs, foreign policy analysts, and others believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition may fall apart sooner. His failings are his own. Unlike many people in the general public–including in Israel–I don’t hate or even dislike Bibi. But I do feel disappointed in him. For all his tough talk about keeping Israel’s borders secure, being hard on Iran, and   doing everything he can to welcome new olim (primarily those fleeing anti-Semitic Europe), Israel is still in a perilous situation due to several reasons.

Number one is the economy. The reason many Jews aren’t making aliyah isn’t about the security situation, but about the economy. Many new immigrants to Israel have tried to live there, but ultimately return to their countries of origin, or move elsewhere. Adding on to this saddening trend is another one: Israelis moving abroad. The salaries in Israel are simply too low to offset the high cost of living, especially when considering the price of houses. Social workers and nurses in Israel make far less than they do in the Western World; so do enlisted people in the military, professors, teachers, and other professions. Israel is the Start-Up Nation and is a global leader in science & technology. Tel Aviv is sometimes affectionately referred to as “Silicon Wadi”. But the economy has been neglected by the Netanyahu Government. One need not look any further than a plan to allow Jordanian day-workers to be employed in Eilat resorts. It may seem kind and like a good way to reach out to the Arab World, but even Jordanian society is deeply anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. What if, heaven forbid, during another conflict between Israel and terrorists, an angry Jordanian day worker took a knife and attacked someone? Moreover, when there are thousands of unemployed or underemployed Israeli Arabs, Ethiopian-Israelis, members of the ultra-Orthodox community, or even migrant workers, why should jobs be filled by Jordanians?

While some would make excuses about a slow recovery following the Great Recession, or the government’s focus mostly on security matters, there truly is little excuse. Other countries, including the USA, have seen some economic recovery following the 2007-09 financial crisis, even if it is slow. As for security matters, people are still being attacked by knife-wielding attackers; the security barrier is still not completely finished (which Isaac Herzog suggested months ago needed to be done), and the Iran deal has been reached and signed. If “focusing on security” is really an excuse for the neglect of the economic situation, then the outcomes demonstrate that it’s a poor one.

Number two is security. Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East, despite being a tiny country. It continues to have close ties to the United States and other Western countries, while also building closer relationships with Asia, Africa, and a number of countries in the Third World. Netanyahu has excelled at “soft power” for Israel by way of “under the table” talks and alliances with Arab and other Muslim countries in light of the Sunni jihadist threat–and Iran’s expansion–throughout the Middle East, which has spread to Africa & Europe; natural-disaster relief and response in countries like Nepal; and irrigation and water-use assistance in drought-stricken or disease-ridden communities in Africa, California, and Asia. The Jewish state has much to be proud of. But this doesn’t mean that Netanyahu’s failures can or should be overlooked. Most glaringly, he failed to stop the nuclear deal with Iran, made by the P5+1 Powers in summer 2015, that poses the greatest risk to Israel’s security. Netanyahu made this a cornerstone of his foreign policy, and still failed. His ill-fated speech to Congress, while noble, only angered many (particularly Democrats) in America, Israel’s strongest ally. It brought more “daylight” between the US and Israel, which led to the proliferation of unfair criticism and anti-Semitism in Europe and throughout the world. In other events, ISIS and other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria continue to approach the Golan Heights, and Hezbollah has been rearming with more sophisticated weaponry–and more weaponry in general–since the 2006 war it fought with Israel, including hundreds of thousands of missiles that can strike anywhere in the Holy Land. This gives Iran a possible advantage and deterrence factor–if Israel, the US, or Arab Countries launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, thousands of Hezbollah rockets may rain down on Haifa, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Amman, Abu Dhabi, or US bases in the region. There’s no doubt that Hezbollah would ultimately lose in such a war, but it would be at the expense of potentially thousands of lives and millions of dollars in damages that would be difficult to repair in a slow economy. Why was Hezbollah allowed to rearm to this extent? Periodic bombings against the traffic of arms from Syria to Lebanon during the civil war is a good step towards preventing a larger supply of missiles or other weapons, but Hezbollah’s arsenal never should have gotten this large to begin with!

And then there’s the issue of the Palestinians. Netanyahu is not to blame for the stall in the “peace process”. That falls squarely on the racism of Palestinian society, which dictates that any land that was conquered by Arabs and/or Muslims must always remain in their hands. But in light of the so-called “stabbing intifada”, why does aid–Israeli aid–continue to flow to the Palestinian Territories? Why are Palestinians still allowed to have work permits for jobs in Israel, or residency in east Jerusalem? This money would be better spent in investing in poorer communities (Jewish communities in Israel from the former Soviet Union and sub-Saharan Africa are still lagging behind the rest of the country, as are Israeli Arabs, in terms of economic opportunity), creating jobs, or building more of the Security Barrier. Ending residence permits for Palestinians and sending them back to Palestinian Authority-controlled areas would lessen the chances of more stabbings taking place; too many people have already lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. Ending their privileges of work permits would provide more jobs instead for African migrant workers or poor Israelis. In terms of the Gaza Strip, this week’s reprisal strikes against Hamas after a rocket was launched into Israel is a good indication of the government’s plans to get tougher on the Islamist terror organization. But calls to destroy Hamas the next time it starts a war with Israel are too late. Rather than signing ceasefire agreements in 2012 or 2014, the terror organization should’ve been dismantled and destroyed. It’s killed far too many Israelis and Palestinians alike, has destroyed a lot of property, and has fueled expensive wars. If this threat had been eliminated already, there would be less for Israel to worry about. It’s shameful that because of the incessant whining and complaining from the United Nations, the European Union, and others–all relatively powerless organizations, by the way–that Netanyahu is willing to possibly allow for Palestinian building on Israeli land, whether by not demolishing Sussiya, or other projects. Since these international bodies, infected by racism, would likely complain about Israel anyways, it would suit Israel more to act like the sovereign nation it is and pursue its interests.

And finally, there’s social issues. Israel has a lot to be proud of in this regard, particularly in comparison to the rest of the Near East. But that doesn’t mean that more can’t or shouldn’t be done. Certain communities (namely Israeli Arabs, Ethiopian-Israelis, and Israelis from the former Soviet Union) lag behind the rest of the Israeli population in terms of economic opportunity, and sometimes suffer from discrimination. The egalitarian section of the Western Wall is still under enormous pressure from right-wing religious fanatics who believe that women are subservient to men. The dominance of a vocal minority–the ultra-Orthodox–in politics in Israel has led to military service & tax exemptions; the revocation of some Jews’ conversion status; the continued ban on gay marriage (and civil marriage) within Israel; the Jewish majority in Israel slipping away because of “non-Halakhic” Jews (mainly from the former Soviet Union) not being recognized; and the refusal of official recognition of other, non-Orthodox Jewish denominations. This all comes at the expense of progress and the secular values of most of Israel’s population. Moreover, it alienates Jews in the Diaspora, particularly younger Jews who are more liberal than their elders, and already are less supportive of and less attached to Israel than past generations. Unfortunately, Bibi continues to cater to these extremists, much to the frustration of many.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is far from being the most incompetent or worst prime minister Israel has had. He’s maintained order, and is a far better leader than any of the options the naive Left has to offer. But unless he is willing to make some brave choices, Israel will remain in danger, start to see Diaspora support slipping away, suffer economically, and will have a religious minority–one that usually gets its way–that increasingly sounds like authorities in Tehran. At a time when the international community is gunning for Israel, this is not a good place to be. My criticism of Netanyahu isn’t completely the same as the criticism he faces from the Left, nor is it full of personal dislike: it’s because Israel needs and deserves better than what it’s getting right now. Hopefully Bibi will start to do the right thing, but if he’s not able to, then we should hope a more capable, centrist politician comes along that can keep Israel safe, prosperous, and progressive.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution. He is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. Dmitri currently lives in Kibbutz Erez, Israel as a Lone Soldier in the Garin Tzabar program, and is in the Givati Brigade.
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