Israel’s Opportunity for Greatness

There are moments in world history when an opportunity arises for political leaders to be the catalysts for greatness in their countries. I believe that now is that moment for Israel just as it was in 1948 when Ben Gurion took the risk and decided to be the midwife at the birth of the State of Israel or, similarly, when Churchill decided to position Britain to fight what was believed to be an insurmountable threat of annihilation by the Nazis.

We have just been through our third election in less than a year with still no clear majority on either the right or the left that will enable Gantz or Netanyahu to easily form a government.  That said, it is also folly to believe that continuing to go into elections will ever yield different results given the current ideologic split in the Israeli body politic.

Albert Einstein was correct when he said, “Doing the same thing repeatedly, and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.”

Given all of this the logical next step would be to form a unity government.  Doing so would show greatness on behalf of the political leadership who have the intestinal fortitude to swallow their egos and do what’s best for the country rather than what is best for themselves.

The numbers speak directly to this issue. The two largest parties, Likud with 36 seats and Blue/White with 33 seats together provide a governing majority of 69 seats in the 120-person Knesset.  So, a unity government should be an obvious “slam dunk.”  But there are two elements of Israel’s body politic that are constantly on the periphery when it comes to participation in the labor market and everyone agrees that has to change if our economy is to enjoy continued growth.  Thus, if one adds in the 16 seats of Shas and UTJ along with the 15 seats of the Arab Joint List, the ruling majority would then have 110 seats……that is, basically undisputed control of the Knesset.

So why can’t that actually happen?  Permit me to deal with and try to dispel the concerns.

We hear that Gantz will never join forces with Netanyahu because Netanyahu is under indictment and he might be convicted…..again, might be.  To that I say, suck it up Gantz!  The country is under threat from three things.  Serious budget issues are not being addressed because there is no functioning government or Knesset.  The country is also under threat from our enemies who, whenever possible, are gleefully exploiting to their advantage the fact that we don’t have a functioning government.  The country is also under threat from the growing economic fallout generated by the reaction to the Coronavirus.  The world is so interconnected now that every country in the world will be facing serious economic challenges long after the threat of the virus subsides.  According to recent analyses, estimates are that the cost to the world’s airline industry alone will be upwards of $113 billion. We need a unity government and now!!!!

As for the Joint List, all we have heard from both the Likud and Blue/White leadership is that there is no way they will sit with Arabs in the ruling coalition.  I don’t have to go into their reasons now, everyone has been subject to sufficient scare tactics on this subject from both parties.  But, in a democracy, and one the speaks in the name of the Jewish people, how do we justify telling 20% of our citizens that they do not enjoy all of the rights of citizenship?  How does that square with the principles of democracy and our being a light unto the nations?  Frankly, it doesn’t.  So, we should welcome them into the governing coalition because (a) they represent 20% of the voting population and (b) we want to see them more involved in Israel’s economy as well.  Of course, there is a legitimate demand that can be made by the rest of us for making this change.  That is that the members of the Joint List must abandon the long-standing position of eliminating Israel that some (but not all) of them espouse.  Without that it would be impossible to open this door.  But, if they can agree, the door should be opened wide.  We need a unity government and now!!!!

Finally, when it comes to the religious parties, Shas and UTJ, as a matter of principle I don’t believe that the religious parties have a place in government.  But, the citizens of Israel feel otherwise and have provided them with 16 seats.  In addition, it is in the best interests of the State of Israel to work to bring the Charedi population to higher levels of representation in the work force else, over the long run, our economy will be unable to sustain the population of the country.  So, here again, those who have problems with the religious parties need to simply come to terms with reality and live with that reality. We need a unity government and now!!!!

For sure people will read this and say I am living in a dream world.  To an extent that is true.  But everyone here is living in a dream world because, logically, it is totally counterintuitive that we would have done as well as we have here and for so long.  After all, historically, except for the period of the Kings of Israel, we do not have a very successful long-term history of self-government.  Couple that with all the wars that have been fought here in the last 72 years and we are left with only one conclusion….that we are indeed living in a dream world.

But, for the dream to continue the leadership has to exhibit greatness…..the greatness that Ben Gurion displayed in 1948 or that of Churchill at the onset of Hitler’s campaign against Britain.  Painful as some of these compromises may be, the path to greatness always involves compromise and an understanding that successful political leadership does not play a zero-sum game when it comes to the future of the country.

The challenge before Benny Gantz and Bibi Netanyahu is to let President Rivlin be the catalyst for greatness that his office dictates and together do what’s best for Israel, not what’s best for Benny Gantz or Bibi Netanyahu.  They need to rise to the challenge of greatness and make this commonwealth be the one that lasts for many more years for the good and welfare of all of us who have chosen to make this Israel our home.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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