At the risk of being labeled a modern day Don Quixote, permit me to share one of Cervantes’ best lines in his book: “The fault lies not with the mob, who demands nonsense, but with those who do not know how to produce anything else.”
This past election brought former prime minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, back to power to, presumably, become the first PM ever to serve three terms separated by others who occupied the office. This will only add to his record of being the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history. For this, he deserves to be congratulated.
Nevertheless the pundits anticipate that to build his right wing coalition he will need to bring in a number of, how would we call them? Somewhat unsavory characters! These include two sterling examples:
- Betzalel Smotrich who once said “Your [referring to Arab students in Israeli universities] illiterates occupy places the university. Show me one Arab that passed the psychometric exam to enter university.”
- Itamar Ben Gvir who once said “They have no place here in Jerusalem nor even in the entire State of Israel” referring to the LGBTQ community and who, at draft age, was denied entry into the IDF because of his extremist views.
While the thinking on the street is that the coalition will be formed with these players as well as others in their party who are equally unsavory, it does not have to be that way. Bibi, when President Herzog invites him to form a government next week, has an opportunity to do what’s best for Israel rather than what’s best for Bibi and be a hero to Israel and the Jewish people.
Bibi, given he is 73 years old and already holds all of the enviable election records in Israel’s history, no longer needs to worry about who doesn’t like him. He owns the records and can now (and should) do something totally out of character but for the good and welfare of the country.
In a word, he can distance himself from the right wing parties who assume they will be in the government and instead, reach out to Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz and invite them to join a tripartite coalition that would command 70 or more seats in the Knesset.
After all, there is much more that unites the three of them than divides them. Each of them and their parties share similar concerns about defense, security, economics, education, quality of life, diversity and the right of all Israeli citizens to be treated equally. The differences in their approach to governance is a result of their own coalition partners who tend to be more left or right, as the case may be. Therefore, the best solution would be to rid the new governing coalition of the extremes.
In principle, this is what Bennett and Lapid tried to do a year ago but their coalition was too broad and did not include large blocks of voters from the decision making process itself. With the framework I am suggesting, over 60% of the voting public would be represented in a coalition composed of centrists and others left and right of center, but not on the extremes.
So, yes, my suggestion could be seen as Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Nevertheless, the times we are living in demand thinking that is way outside of the box.
While we are about to celebrate 75 years of independence and great strides have been made to establish productive relationships with our neighbors we will still face daunting challenges as we move forward. These include:
- The continuing threat from Iran.
- Threading the needle of our relationship with Russia and Ukraine.
- Addressing the worsening problem of worldwide inflation.
- The instability of American politics, and how that can affect our own stability.
- A continued increase in world-wide anti-Semitism
- The rise of autocratic regimes in countries we thought were democracies.
To deal with all of these issues Israel desperately needs a government that is not beholden to extreme forces either on the right or on the left. In a world which is less stable now than at any time since the end of World War II, our government has to be able to counter that instability.
Bibi, given his obvious popularity among a large percentage of the population, his expertise in the field of economics which is his core strength, and the fact that the Likud garnered the largest number of mandates in the last election, is well positioned to take the bull by the horns and strike out on his own in the best interests of all of Israel.
So yes, Cervantes wrote “The fault lies not with the mob, who demands nonsense, but with those who do not know how to produce anything else.” Israel needs to marginalize the mob because we really do know how to produce something else. Something better, more inventive and more in line with what everyone needs, not just the extremists.
Bibi has the opportunity, in cooperation with Lapid and Gantz, to teach the world that Israel, more than any other nation, can rise above petty politics and do what’s best for the country.
Our beloved moral compass, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, once said: “If we are to negotiate the coming years safely, we may need a new kind of leadership. To put it more precisely, we need the rediscovery of an ancient kind of leadership that has rarely been given the prominence it deserves. I mean the leader as teacher.”
Bibi, be the teacher for our generation and you will be the hero for the ages…..there is no one better positioned to make this happen.