Of Philosopher Kings and Bibi — The 2019 Elections

The Greek philosopher Plato of classical antiquity once said that democracy is the worst form of government. Why? He reasoned that politics left upto the mob, which he called the mass populace, rather than to an intelligent philosopher king, one competent to lead the state through the hardships of statecraft would lead to potentially disastrous results.

Fast forward to the 21st century. We have an Israel which is trying to contain Iran in Syria, a very delicate diplomatic dance with both Trump and Putin, a thriving economy, and Israel seemingly as prosperous and respected as ever before. There is one man at the head of this thriving state: Benjamin Netanyahu. For his ten years at the head of government he has quite an impressive array of accomplishments. It is perhaps only fitting that he is second only to David Ben Gurion in terms of prominence and longitivity in governance. However, trouble is brewing for King Bibi.

Bibi is accused of breach of trust in two cases and receiving bribes in a third. While accusations of corruption especially related to Bibi’s media coverage are not new, an indictment intent made official by the Attorney General changes the equation. According to a TimesofIsrael poll two thirds of Israelis want the Prime Minister to step down if officially indicted. For the first time in the election period a major sustained shift of support for the centrist candidate, former chief of staff Benny Gantz, is consistent. What we are now witnessing is the first real challenge to Bibi’s rule in what should have been an easy road to victory. It is possible that King Bibi may not survive the vote.

There was a time when a “no one other than Bibi” mentality flourished throughout Israel. With the country on the verge of war only one man, Netanyahu himself, could steer Israel through it. However does one really want a corrupt man on top? A man that will stop at nothing to ensure that the media would have a positive perspective on him? A man that clearly is able to and has taken bribes to further his own interest at the expense of the country he is steering? A man who is perfectly willing to form alliances with the fringe right to secure an extra seat or two in parliament? What is at stake is more than a man but the integrity of the state itself and a vote for Bibi may put Israel into an autocratic spiral similar to Erdogan’s Turkey.

Nevertheless, Gantz is already proving Netanyahu right with his assertion that he would trade large portions of the West Bank for peace with the Palestinians. Trump’s peace deal aside, Netanyahu has vowed to not uproot any Jews from our historical biblical backyard. While it is possible that Bibi may be forced to come up with a similar deal under Trump’s proposal, in return he may establish peace with the broader Middle East. Gantz has already pledged to give land away.

As such the upcoming vote is one in which Plato would have understood well: Do we need a man who has proven himself in steering Israel on the global stage but has a soft spot for cigars and positive media coverage or do we need to replace him with an ex defense chief who may not be under investigation but has precious little international experience?

The result of this debate may have far reaching implications. After all, regardless of cigars Israel’s geopolitical situation remains the same. It is not an easy job to maneuver the Israeli ship but a wrong move can shatter the calm which most Israelis now take for granted. Who is the best philosopher king for Israel at this critical junction? This is at the heart of the 2019 vote.

About the Author
Born in Israel but raised in Canada, Gil Lewinsky worked as a journalist in Jewish newspapers including the Jerusalem Post after completing a Masters degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. He also has a LLM in International Law from Lancaster University in the UK. His past topics include a book written about the Status of Gaza under International Law soon after its conquest by Hamas in 2007. He is perhaps best known as one of two people that brought a flock of Jacob Sheep from Canada to Israel in 2016, making history. He currently works as a teacher and public relations professional in Israel.