Love him, hate him, but you cannot dismiss him. Netanyahu shaped the political and social panorama of Israel forever. A strong unapologetic man of many dimensions that sought world recognition for Israel and often limelight for himself. Twelve years of Netanyahu have come abruptly to an end. Bittersweet for his strong supporters, and “about time” for his enemies. He took on Israel’s foes and critics with a vengeance akin to a masked superhero, and deflated accusations like a smooth Teflon pan. But through it all, he did it his way.
Born in 1949 in Tel-Aviv, Bibi grew up in Jerusalem but later spent his years in the US where his historian father, Benzion Netanyahu moved his family to. Bibi finished High School in the US and received a B.Sc in Architecture and M.Sc in Business Management from MIT. He also studied political science at both MIT and Harvard. He later returned to Israel to join the IDF elite unit Sayeret Matkal. In 1972 he was involved in rescue operations of the hijacked Sabena airline, and in 1973 went back in uniform to serve during the Yom Kippur War.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s life continued to be a combination of the “political” and the “business” that eventually shaped his decisions as Prime Minister. Between 1976-1982, Bibi was a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group and later served as senior manager for the Jerusalem based RIM Industries. His political career was launched in 1982 when he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. Between 1984-88 he was also Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, leading an effort to declassify UN archives on Nazi war crimes. He returned to Israel in 1988 as a member of the Likud Party and the Knesset. In 1993 he became Likud Party Chairman.
Benjamin’s first tenure as Prime Minister was not without strife. It followed the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and was inundated with suicide bombings and scandal, often involving Netanyahu’s alleged “abrasive style” of leadership. But he also signed the Hebron and Wye Accords, privatized government owned companies, reduced the deficit, and liberalized foreign currency regulations. He eventually lost to Ariel Sharon. The rest is history as they say.
I am barely significant in analyzing Israeli politics, but my opinion combines Israeli news sources from both sides of the aisle, and strong Israeli friendships forged over the span of five years. My circle of Israeli friends is diverse, and I value all of their opinions and firsthand accounts, because I cannot presume to know the intricacies of Israeli politics or the multi-religious factions that pray together on Shabbat but protest in the streets on compelling opposite issues and opinions. I am old enough to remember the 1968 war and all of Israel’s Prime Ministers leading to Benjamin Netanyahu. Admittedly, my all-time favorite was and will always be Golda Meir. The first woman I admired at a young age, and one I still attempt to emulate in my personal and business life. I admired Netanyahu for his tenacity.
Nobody can or should dispute Netanyahu’s love of Israel. His charismatic character took on the Obama Administration and the UN simultaneously for the former’s disregard to Israel’s concerns about Iran, and the latter’s insidious and continual attacks on Israel’s sovereignty by the disingenuous Security Council. An organization made up of the worst Human Rights offenders on the global platform. His openness and unprecedented brashness in support of Israel was as unapologetic as it was scathing. However, his alignment with the ultra-religious right pushed forward an agenda that left little room for central maneuvering making him the prime target of secular parties that found a loud voice in the crowds that protested his administration and Netanyahu himself.
Netanyahu found a “battle buddy” in Donald Trump who was as brash and bold as his Israeli friend. They boosted each other up and formed a formidable alliance that pushed aside critics and eventually, pure visceral hatred. But both got caught in personal baggage and alleged illegal activities, and eventually were cast aside unceremoniously in lieu of more sedate alternative. Voters on both side of the globe chose the opposition as a stand against two men they disliked. Which brings us to life after Netanyahu. The cliché “be careful of what you wish for” is not far fetched where these two men are concerned. The non-Trump American politics is sedate, woke, cliched, and undetermined. Crime is up in all major US cities, the borders are inundated with an influx of undocumented immigrants, inflation is up with the price of gas risen by 50+% since January, and lumber by 70+%. Government hand outs are higher than salaries, so small businesses cannot find workers. And anti-Semitism is in the open courtesy of the “Squad”, four insidious Democratic Congresswomen who are allowed to spew anti-Israel hatred with immunity. This is the post Trump America. Yes, things are calmer, but are they safer or better?
The vote to end Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure was not exactly an overwhelming “victory”. The vote passed 60-59. The division is precise, and the coalition has its work cut out for it. This was more of a vote against Netanyahu than for Naftali Bennet. According to Reuters (June 13, 2021) “With little in common other than a desire to unseat Netanyahu, the patchwork coalition of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties largely plans to avoid sweeping moves on hot-button issues such as policy towards the Palestinians, and to focus instead on domestic reforms.” Not an inspiring endorsement for a new government. Not much gravitas. The same Reuters report stated that the Palestinians were “unmoved” by this new government. Go figure. Naftali Bennet is as conservative as his predecessor having been Netanyahu’s former defense chief. His address to the Knesset did not waiver from Netanyahu’s stand against Iran’s nuclear deal and did not really outline any dissimilar foreign policies going forward either. But the millennials are happy.
Naftali Bennet assumes the reins for the first two years followed by Yair Lapid for the two years following. A precarious coalition made up of parties that range from a small Arab Islamist Party to ultranationalists. The juggling of obvious opposition ideals and divisive opinions will not be easy. Expectations for unity are running high but reality remains forged in old suspicions and political divide. The last few years of Netanyahu’s “rule” were polarizing. Barely any middle ground. The “with me or against me” old adage sparked outrage among many centralist Israelis who saw their country engaged in confrontations that have tired them as individuals, and as a nation. Israel after Netanyahu is not a cake walk. The problems that plagued the country last month are not disappearing overnight. The new government is like a thin sheet of ice, it will only take a small crack to break. How is Bennet going to move forward?
Already, Hamas is taunting across the border with incendiary balloons prompting IDF to respond. A nationalist march through Jerusalem is sparking criticism and worry that the 11 days in May will be repeated. Tensions have not ebbed, and the new Israeli government must mend the rift between Arabs and Jews. Both deserve safe neighborhoods. Jerusalem cannot be ignored. Compromises might have to be taken for the sake of all faiths and occupants in the city. Calming decades of high emotions and weeks of violence will take more than rhetoric. The citizens are patiently waiting for answers.
Israel is a diverse society. This diversity was often put aside in lieu of an ultra-right agenda that marginalized secular center and left leaning Israelis. The fact that Haredim openly defy authority and refuse to serve galls a large number of Israelis who see them as archaic, misogynists, and non-contributive to Israel’s interest. Their open defiance to COVID restrictions and the Mount Meron disaster increased the anger among ordinary Israelis, who already perceive the Haredim as non-productive, and behind Netanyahu’s hold on power kept for these many years. To Bennet’s credit, he did say that …” he is prioritizing mending the many rifts dividing Israeli society.” (Ben Zion, June 14, 2021). His remarks remain nebulous.
I do not predict that post Netanyahu, Israel will be going through any drastic changes, not immediately anyway. The coalition is fragile, but if Bennet is the charismatic man that he seems to be, he should be able to maneuver through the polarizing divisions his predecessor unfortunately left behind. Bennet should determine what friendships he needs to keep and who needs to be cut loose. The far-right religious power will be diminished if he is to keep the centralists and Arab parties on board and the coalition intact. If he softens his stand on Hamas, Israel might go back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s when suicide bombers were prolific and damaging. If the Biden administration re-opens the deal with Iran, Bennet by nature, will follow in Netanyahu’s footsteps and object. Torn between inherent conservatism and central to liberal parties, this new government has made some strange bed fellows.
My two cents for all that’s worth: I believe that when an individual or a government remains in power for a long-time corruption as a sense of entitlement is imminent. A change whether for the better or worse still serves well. We learn from both. The former strengthens us, and the latter teach us how not to make the same mistake twice. Israel deserves tranquility. It’s people, whatever walk of life, religion, ethnicity, or belief, deserve a safe prosperous country. No one should hope for failure of a new government. A failed government hurts everyone. As I watch this new post Netanyahu era unfold, I sincerely pray for this new government to succeed in keeping Israel safe and its citizens protected. Shalom.
Heller, J. Reuters. June 13, 2021. Israel’s new government begins, Netanyahu era ends (msn.com)
Ben Zion, I. June 14, 2021. Israel’s new government gets to work after Netanyahu ouster – ABC News