Gary Epstein
And now for something completely different . . .

Let Bibi Win The War

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I voted for Ayelet Shaked in the last election because I thought she was the most qualified candidate. I was advised that I was “wasting” my vote and I acknowledged that her chances of winning were nil and of attaining Knesset representation slim.  But I thought she was the most qualified candidate.

So feel free to discount, or even dismiss, my political acumen.

But at least my opinions are not derived from a deep desire to justify my previous writings and by visceral animus toward a politician who has devoted his professional life to public service and has guided Israel successfully (for the most part) to the heights it has achieved. As to the recent depths it has plumbed, he should and will be judged at the appropriate time. He is the son of a historian and a student of history. He knows what happened to Golda Meir after the Yom Kippur War and to Menachem Begin after the Lebanon misadventure. He knows where the buck stops.

The question is . . . when should the buck stop?

In the middle of a war, when the incredible, miraculous, unprecedented unity of a nation is the only thing warding off despair? When one can not walk or drive ten meters without seeing a sign shouting “together, we will prevail?” When the spirit of the splendid armed forces is enhanced by an achdut that was literally unimaginable three months ago? When, it seems, everyone in the country, from kindergarten to pensioner, is volunteering and contributing on behalf of the soldiers, the bereaved families, the displaced communities? When former political rivals are demonstrating that love of country can transcend personal ambition?

Bibi has made some missteps. He has not, prior to the past few days, reached out sufficiently to the affected and grieving families. He instinctively and foolishly indulged the politician’s reflex to point a finger in order to avert blame (though what he said about intelligence shortcomings was undoubtedly true and he withdrew his statement and apologized almost immediately). Whatever character and behavioral shortcomings he had before the war assuredly persist.

But he is a leader. He has led Israel longer than any other Prime Minister.He has spoken with authority, outrage, and determination in expressing the goals of the nation in this war. He has been implacable and adamant in resisting President Biden and Secretary Blinken’s mealy-mouthed requests for moderation in fighting this most immoderate of evil enemies.

Most of all, given that he must know that his tenure is likely to end shortly after the war, he is the only leader who can proceed in an inexorable and uncompromising way to victory. He knows that we (and he) must win the war to salvage some part of his legacy. He has the latitude to be unyielding and inflexible in vanquishing Hamas, because he has the moral authority of one who was at the helm when the vicious attack was launched. Like the responses of Roosevelt and Churchill, his speeches resound with righteous anger and the will to prevail.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a wonderful writer and a true patriot. But he has spent the past few months staunchly on the side of those who perceive Netanyahu as a malign force in Israeli politics, focusing on his capitulation to religious politicians in his coalition and the ham handed attempt to reform a judicial system much indeed of reform. While one could argue that Bibi was merely doing what the electorate had approved and directed, there is no question that it all could have been handled better.

And it will be.

After we win the war.

Halevi wrote a passionate analysis of “What this war is about” for the Times of Israel blog in which he characterizes the conflict as a necessary occasion to establish that Israel is not helpless, despite the reverses of October 7, and the attendant undermining of our military credibility. He argues persuasively that we must restore our “shattered deterrence.” That is, he endorses the policies being pursued by Netanyahu. But he is unable to do so without also suggesting that Netanyahu, unlike Sharon and Begin, is putting his interests ahead of the state’s. He refers to Israel as a leaderless people. He suggests (notwithstanding events that disprove the hypothesis) that Netanyahu is afraid to mingle with soldiers.

Halevi argues that “large parts of the Israeli public lost faith in the moral direction of the country.” That may be true. It is also true that a significant segment of the populace believed that the country was regaining its moral foundation. That is totally irrelevant, just as Halevi’s statement that “the [judicial reform] crisis threatened to unravel crucial parts of the military.”

The country is unified, the military is a cohesive and effective fighting force and all the prognostications to the contrary have been proven false. That is not to say that the country will not have to face and address all the problems, ideally in a far more constructive way. But now is not the time to undermine confidence in the government or to attack Netanyahu. Let him do his job. Right now, he is ideally suited for it.

In contradistinction to Yossi Klein Halevi, Tom Friedman is a blithering idiot who is always–always–wrong about Israel. Last year, he wrote a column called “The Israel We Knew Is Gone.” This week, he wrote a column called “I Have Never Been to This Israel Before.” I guess that makes sense, since the one he had been to is gone, but that was inevitable, since in 2017, he wrote that the foundations of Israel’s security are cracking. On the other hand, he has been wrong about Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, and, to top it off, suggested that Americans should be “rootin’ for Putin” a few years before he realized that Russia was, indeed, not even a democracy.

Jerold Auerbach wrote: “By the time [Friedman] graduated from Brandeis in 1975, he had already identified himself with the Palestinian national cause, with apologies for PLO terrorism . . .” Friedman basically responds to every news event by describing it as a harbinger of disaster for Israel. He has never gotten over the fact that the comprehensive peace plan he negotiated with Saudi Arabia has never been accepted or implemented. Rather than cite all the multitudes of Friedman’s errors, I refer the reader to articles in Vanity Fair, Foreign Policy, Algemeiner Journal and others; it is no secret that outside the rarefied circles of New York Times bloviators, Friedman is viewed more as a humor columnist than a serious commentator.

And, of course, part of the negativity is driven by hatred of Netanyahu. Unlike Halevi, who loves Israel and harbors deep disapproval of Netanyahu’s policies, Friedman’s hostility appears to be personal. Bibi doesn’t give Tom the time of day.  He treats him like the hack he is. One can almost read Friedman’s mind as the words of the column reveal the anger:  “Doesn’t he know who I am and who I married?  Doesn’t he know that Presidents and Princes are guided by my wisdom and insight?  Doesn’t He Know . . . Who . . . I. . . Am?”

And, since the answer to all these questions appears to be in the negative, “Israel has the worst leader in its history–maybe in all of Jewish history.” Take that, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Friedman, without any apparent basis, accuses Bibi of putting the interest of holding on to his right-wing support ahead of maintaining national solidarity and “doing some of the basic things that Biden needs.” And, after recounting Bibi’s many sins, Friedman suggests that the sooner Israel replaces Netanyahu with a true national unity government, the better chance it has to hold together.

Most revealing, Friedman views the amazing grass roots mobilization of the military and civil population and the true solidarity it revealed, only to dismiss it and conclude that it suggests “how much solidarity is still buried in this place and could be unlocked by a different prime minister, one who was a uniter, not a divider.”

But . . . Tom . . . it happened and is happening now, under the leadership of Netanyahu, in the middle of a war. It is interesting that Friedman accuses Bibi of putting his own interests before those of the country, when it is crystal clear that Friedman sees this horrendous conflict as an opportunity to score some points against his personal antagonist. From the 18th floor Executive Lounge of the Tel Aviv Hilton, Friedman pontificates while Israel struggles and performs miracles.

We need to win this war. We need to win this war in a way that sends a message that what happened on October 7 will never happen again. The man who is most motivated to send that message and most capable of delivering it is Bibi Netanyahu.

There will be plenty of time to figure out what was wrong on October 6, and plenty of blame to distribute.

Right now, we need unity, confidence, strength, leadership, courage, and wisdom.  And we can’t afford to do any on the job training.

Let Bibi win the war.

And then maybe we can elect Ayelet Shaked.

About the Author
Gary Epstein is a retired teacher and lawyer residing in Modi'in, Israel. He was formerly the Head of the Global Corporate and Securities Department of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with an office in Tel Aviv, which he founded and of which he was the first Managing Partner. He and his wife Ahuva are blessed with18 grandchildren, ka"h, all of whom he believes are well above average. He currently does nothing. He believes he does it well.
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