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Solly Kaplinski
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Leadership for our times: Are we up to it?

As Israel gets more vulnerable, it's time for a national government -- but can the politicians rise above petty politics?
Rallying to our flag

Towards the end of May 1967, prompted by growing tensions and fears in Israel as the conflict with Egypt escalated, the then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, appointed Moshe Dayan as Defense Minister four days before the start of the Six Day War.

At the suggestion of the National Religious Party, Eshkol also invited Golda Meir, and among the leaders of the opposition: Yosef Sapir and Menachem Begin, to join the cabinet as ministers without portfolio. The much-reviled Begin both in Israel and abroad – Time magazine infamously wrote that his name rhymed with Fagin – subsequently went on to become Israel’s much respected and admired Prime Minister who made peace with Egypt and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Effectively this was Israel’s first national unity government and the country was united as never before – and prevailed as it confronted war on all fronts: with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

The events leading up to the war – and the outcomes also united Jewish communities around the world who heaved a huge sigh of relief at what seemed to be a miracle as Israel – seen as the diminutive David, took on and defeated in no uncertain terms the terrifying Goliath in our neighborhood. I remember in particular being a 19-year-old student at the University of Cape Town holding my head up high – especially after feeling in the extremely tense period leading up to the war, that Israel’s very existence was being threatened as the people began digging mass graves.

It seems to me that today, with Israel being attacked on all sides – and with tragic consequences, a national unity government is called for. Now is the time for leaders of the opposition – and the coalition, to put aside their differences – and their egos and combine their strengths – and their voters to stand as one against those who wish to destroy us. Yes, we know that Netanyahu reneged when Gantz joined up on the assumption that he would be the Prime Minister after two years. The reality today is clearly different. We almost have our backs to the wall on the security front and our enemies are relishing our weaknesses and our seeming inability to clearly make a difference by taking the fight to them. We are letting them dictate the terms of play. This also has implications for our ever-diminishing deterrence.

Such a move, with ironclad guarantees for rotating the premiership, would also enable Netanyahu to show his leadership skills of old by jettisoning members of his cabinet who are clearly not up to the task, and to legitimately climb down from the disastrous focus on judicial reform that is tearing Israel apart and now obviously has to fade into the background. Such a united front would also empower Israel to act with confidence in order to restore a sense of normalcy and stability.

What is important now is for our country and our diverse population to rally around the flag and to give our government the confidence to not be hesitant but to take the steps that are necessary to deter those who feel that they have the wind in their sails.

In essence, our precarious and uncertain situation calls for sober, bold, mature, and inspirational leadership that will steady our ‘ship of state’ as it as we navigate the storms and swells we find ourselves confronting and once again contribute to our feelings of safety and security in our country which we cherish and love.

Are our leaders up to the challenge? Can they move beyond petty politics and focus on the priority issues which are front and center and are staring us so clearly in the face? If ever there was a time to show their mettle and their worth, now more than ever, for the sake of the country and our people, let them step forward.

About the Author
Solly Kaplinski, a former Headmaster of Herzlia High School in Cape Town, also headed up Jewish Day Schools in Toronto and Vancouver. His Aliyah professionally has been bookended by working at Yad Vashem in the International Relations Department and at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) where he served for 17 years as the Executive Director of Overseas Joint Ventures. He is also the author of a novella, A world of Pains: A Redemptive Parable?
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