On the afternoon of April 12,1945 I was a 5 year old Jewish kid living in the Bronx, along with almost a million other Jews where it was, for want of a better description, a golden shtetl.
At about five o’clock, a loud noise emanated from the hallway of the six story building in which we lived. In the hallways, on every floor, all the neighbors poured out of their apartments screaming “Roosevelt is dead!!!!” And the wailing and crying continued for some hours thereafter. One heard cries of “What will be? How will we survive?”
To New York Jews, the overwhelming majority of whom were Democrats, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was the savior who ended the depression that began in 1929 and also successfully brought victory to the allies in World War II. Never mind that he missed every opportunity to provide succor to Jews facing genocide in Europe nor was he willing to open America’s gates to those who could get out of that inferno. Even in spite of all of that Roosevelt was a hero to the Jewish community and a four-term president of the United States.
However, after his death members of the U.S. Congress realized that in spite of what FDR had accomplished it was not in the best interests of a functioning democracy to have a head of state remain in office without term limits. While in this particular case no real damage was done to the democracy, they understood that the absence of term limits also made it possible for tyrants to come to the fore and remain in office indefinitely. (Certainly, a scary thought in today’s milieu.)
As a result, just six years later on February 27, 1951 the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified enacting a two-term limit (i.e. 8 years) on anyone elected to the Presidency of the U.S. That remains the law until today.
On April 9th we Israelis will go to the polls to elect new members of the Knesset and, perforce, empower someone to form a government and act as the prime minister. Now the polls show the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with a slight lead over his presumed opponent, Benny Gantz but we are still almost a month from Election Day so anything can happen in the interim.
Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether or not Netanyahu should continue serving or, in the interests of a maintaining a vibrant democracy, is it time for a change?
On March 31st Netanyahu will have served as prime minister for 10 years as the head of three different governments. He is known to be strong on both economic and security issues, has overseen significant GDP growth, kept a lot of bad things from happening and, more or less, is perceived as having done a good job as prime minister.
For sure, diaspora Jews rightly think they have been thrown under the bus by his actions or lack thereof, the ultra-Orthodox controlled rabbinate has too much power, his new coalition if he wins will have racist politicians as members and peace with the Palestinians will not be any closer.
And of course this week on Facebook he responded to actress Rotem Sela by saying “Israel is not a country of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law that we passed, Israel is the state of the Jewish people — and belongs to them alone,” adding “there is no problem with Arab citizens – they have equal rights like everybody.” Netanyahu finished his message by making a statement he has repeated throughout the election cycle. “It’s either a strong right-wing government led by me, or a weak left-wing government led by Yair Lapid and Gantz, with the support of the Arab parties.” Definitely not the kind of statement that will win votes anywhere but on the right.
However, all of that is almost unimportant when compared to the key issue. While Israel does not have term limits, a vibrant democracy is insured by a regular change in leadership so that no one can think of himself or herself as king.
I have no way of telling whether Gantz will do a better or worse job than that of Netanyahu. But what I do know is that, by definition, no one is indispensable and 10 years is more than enough of one prime minister. So I for one, even though I am still a member of the Central Committee of the Likud (thanks to a request by Natan Sharansky to do this after his party merged with the Likud some years ago) will enter the polling booth on April 9th and vote for the Blue and White Party. My hope is that Benny Gantz will be asked by the President of Israel to form our next government.
I thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for all he has done for Israel and am willing to overlook his mistakes, everyone makes them. However, it is time for a change.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”