News pundits have argued that the upcoming elections are a referendum on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the Covid pandemic. If Israel arrives at election day with an inoculated populace, and an open economy, Netanyahu will be swept into office. If the elections are held in the midst of a fourth lockdown, the anti-Netanyahu block will gain the upper hand. Others have asserted that these elections center on the preservation of democratic institutions. Yet they are mistaken. These elections are about the sacred bond that exists between national leaders and their citizens.
In a representative democracy, where a government of the people, by the people and for the people is made up of elected representatives, no citizen holds greater responsibility than the head of state. He is cloaked by the electorate with awesome powers. He is given discretion over the management of national assets, he is tasked with leading the military and taking decisions that may plunge a country into war while overseeing the work of an entire government dedicated to promoting citizens’ welfare.
Many aspire to power. Few get to wield it. And heavy is the head that wears the crown. When Barack Obama entered the White House he was a young and spirited president promising change and hope; a reincarnation of John F. Kennedy. Eight years later, he left office a slim middle-aged man with white hair, no doubt the result of sleepless nights and the need to manage multiple crises at any given moment. While Israel is not a superpower, it faces many of the dilemmas of a superpower. Surrounded by Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and terrorists on the Syrian border, Israel is in a constant state of military alert. Any miscalculation could trigger a full-scale military altercation on two fronts. Moreover, not a day passes when Israel is not faced with diplomatic crises, such as the need to reverse decisions made by the ICC, or contend with a UN inquiry into possible war crimes. When one adds Israel’s societal challenges, including growing social inequalities, he is faced with the realization that leading the state of Israel is no menial task. Rather, it is one that requires absolute dedication.
The question that comes to the fore is whether Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to meet the demands, and exercise the duties of his office while facing three prolonged trials? Managing these trials will increasingly demand time and resources; resources necessary for ensuring Israel’s prosperity. Will President Biden be put ‘on hold’ every time Netanyahu receives and urgent call from his lawyers? Will cabinet meetings be postponed as damning evidence is introduced at court? Will healthcare reforms remain on paper as Netanyahu is busy revising his defense strategy?
The immediate future demands exceptional leadership. Israel faces the specter of a nuclear Iran, the worst financial crisis in history and a process of global re-ordering in which Israel’s alliance with America will no longer be sufficient to ensure its safety. New alliances with global powers such as China and India must be deepened, a process that requires calculated diplomacy at the highest levels.
Many believe that only Netanyahu can build such alliances. This is especially true of young voters. Surveys indicate that first time voters tend to support the prime minister. He has, after all, led Israel their entire adult lives. To them, a reality in which Israel is not lead by Netanyahu is simply inconceivable. The same was true of youngsters in the 1960s who could not imagine Israel being led by anyone but David Ben Gurion. Yet Ben Gurion left office and the nation thrived and survived. Other leaders emerged. Some were better, some were worse.
Avid supporters of Netanyahu insist that a coup is underway, that the entire legal establishment including the courts, the state’s attorney and the attorney general are attempting to oust Netanyahu by immoral, legal means. Like Creaser, he is surrounded by enemies. These supporters do not believe that there is a secrete council leading this coup. Netanyahu’s supporters subscribe to Gore Vidal’s logic that elites do not meet to conspire. They all think alike as they are the product of the same establishment.
Whether this coup is a fantasy or not is immaterial, as things are now in motion that cannot be undone. As prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu will be unable to fulfill his obligations to Israeli citizens. Presently, Netanyahu is already guilty of one crime- lying to Israelis when promising them his undivided attention. If he loves Israel as much as he professes, Netanyahu will accept his fate, drop out of the race and have his day in court. If acquitted, he will return to power soon enough proving to his ardent followers that he is the once and future king of Israel.