Netanyahu’s Fig Leaf

There was a leader in the land once, who had a vision: a vision of peace. He was a soldier and a general, who had reached the highest position in the army and in the government, though in essence he was just a simple man, with simple tastes. He fought for his country’s independence, and commanded the troops that secured the country’s triumph and survival. But when the moment came to stand up and deliver peace, he did just that. He didn’t like his enemy one bit; most probably hated him and despised him. But he knew that peace you make with your enemies, not your friends, and therefore had pushed all these feelings of animosity aside, realizing what his people needed the most: peace and security. Like Moses many years before him, Rabin had his faults and his bad moments, and some wrong moves here and there. But mostly he had a vision. And because he always kept his eyes open and centered on that vision, he knew where to lead his people. He was willing to sacrifice himself for that vision, and indeed paid for it dearly with his life. And at least in that sense, again like Moses before him, Rabin did not reach the Promised Land.

His life was cut short not only by the assassins’ bullet, but by the enemies of peace as well, men who were walking among his own people. One of these men, a politician rival who inflamed some of the rhetoric that had brought about the tragic event of Rabin’s murder – calling him a “traitor” in Jerusalem’s public square, in front of a wildly cheering crowd – was Netanyahu. A man who eventually, and shortly thereafter, had succeeded in replacing the dead, visionary man as the leader of the state of Israel. He did that under all sorts of backroom maneuvers, forming and reforming parties and alliances. And yet as a politician, he succeeded like no other – almost – both in Israel and abroad. Currently, he is second only to the legendary first Israeli leader, Ben-Guroin in the length of his service (and rule) as Prime Minister. His people are fairly prosper and secure under his leadership, and because of that they lack, maybe, the necessary vision as well, or the will to fight for it. A long term vision, I’m talking about, for themselves and for their beloved country.

The Jewish people, as the recent holiday of Passover testified so well, and as the magnificent television five-part program by Simon Schama so pointedly described in his documentary “The Story of the Jews,” knew many ups and downs throughout their long history. They also lived and prospered in the Land of Israel at ancient times, and in other lands as well, and were pogromed and killed there, and had been pushed out before from the Holy Land and other lands. The best way to ensure that this will not happen again is by a visionary, long view of the goals of the Jewish people and their country. The shortest way for its demise and repeated past mistakes and disasters, a vicious and bloody circle indeed, is by relying on short-term goals. As if just getting by, even if successfully so, is sufficient enough. Which is what Netanyahu is so good at, and the reason he is regarded, even by his own people, as “Mister Status Quo.” He is a good politician, the proof is in the pudding, but a bad leader.

A great leader needs a clear vision and true courage to implement it. If not, he is a mere politician, even if a good one. So good that in the previous government he was able to be the head of state with a minority party; and in this government he formed an alliance with a party made of far-right extremists. Yet he is too short-sighted, and too afraid. And in that sense, the people themselves – the more determined people, the religious fanatic settlers’ camp, who indeed have a clear vision ahead of them – are leading the charge and not him. His latest decision to cancel further peace talks with Abbas and the Palestinians due to the tentative unity agreement reached in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas is nothing but a fig leaf, designed to disguise the naked truth of what is already a great missed opportunity for him to bring peace to his people; an opportunity actually not of his own making and work, but of other people’s concern and urgency. And yet, he is too afraid still. Moses and Rabin were not afraid. Or rather, they mustered the courage to overcome their fear, and in the process became true leaders of their people. If their lives were cut short as result of that – history and their people will always remember them and sing their praise. Which will never happen with the short-sighted, cowardly leaders, no matter how long they hold on to the reins of power. Their power is a false one, because it leads nowhere.

About the Author
Hillel Damron was born in Kibbutz Hephzibah to parents who survived the Holocaust; he was an officer of elite paratroop unit who was wounded in battle; studied film and became a director of TV documentaries, video shorts and a feature film. Damron is the author of three novels, short stories and a political blog; winner of Moment Magazine’s 2011 Memoir Contest and is the past executive director of the Hillel House, at University of Davis, California.