Hanukkah is the perfect Jewish holiday to discuss Jewish political leadership bayamim hahem uvazman hazeh – in the days of old, and in our day.
Bayamim Hahem – In Days of Old
The Maccabean revolt sought to rid the Temple, Jerusalem, and the Jewish leadership from the influence of the idolatry, wealth, and ideas of the Seleucid Greek empire. The Hasmonean family was a regular priestly family that presented a nationalistic and familial alternative to the out of touch aristocratic class. However, in the generations following their idealistic revolt, the dynasty would become that which it overthrew.
The Hasmonean dynasty at its best sought the advice of the Sanhedrin’s religious leadership under Shimon, forged peace treaties with Armenia under Shlomtzion the Queen, and built monumental infrastructure second only to Herod. At its worst, the dynasty was a conquering empire that forcibly converted others to its own religion and an aristocratic society that fought a civil war against its own people – the very people that would have fought arm-in-arm with Judah Maccabee less than 50 years prior. This ~90 year reign was a roller-coaster of holiness and corruption, war and peace, meritocracy and aristocracy, and triumph and tragedy.
Bazman Hazeh – In Our Day
Israel is soon to enter its 4th election cycle since April 2019. Israelis are frustrated with the current government, especially the confusion and chaos of its constantly changing COVID rules. The months of persistent protests have shown that many Israelis have had enough of Netanyahu’s self-serving policies and presentations that only aim to move his impending trial from the court of law to the court of public opinion. The current Knesset’s partisan rhetoric and divisiveness only allow for representatives to serve themselves and their party, and not the country as a whole. The thought of wasting even more public money on another exhausting election campaign between Pro-Bibi and Anti-Bibi rhetoric provides little hope for a better alternative.
Most Israelis desire a political leadership that is not corrupt, strives for unity and invests in fixing the country’s underlying issues with education, healthcare, and the wealth gap. However, the public cannot decide on a leader, a party, or even a political bloc to provide enough power to establish a ruling majority, let alone pursue policies to improve society.
Al Hamilchamot – Of Our Wars
A little over a month ago, on November 4 we commemorated the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
As US President Bill Clinton eulogized him: “He was a man devoid of pretenses”.
He began his adulthood studying and working in agriculture, before pursuing a lifetime of service to his country: as a career soldier and then as a politician. Even as Prime Minister, he had the humility to step down from leadership after minor legal issues, so as not to distract from the needs of governing the country, a far cry from the current Israeli leadership.
Rabin was a man of action more than rhetoric. For most of his life, his efforts were focused on the military side of securing the State of Israel. But, as the security challenges that Israel faced transformed from external wars to internal struggles with the Palestinians, he pivoted his efforts to pursue a lasting peace with the Palestinians by recognizing their national desires. He led Israel to make peace with Jordan and lost his life in pursuit of a peace with the Palestinians in the Oslo Accords.
Rabin’s leadership pushed the country to deal with its primary concerns and hope for a better future, but his career was also full of challenges. As a General and as Defense Minister his tough policies towards Arabs portray him as a “brutal” military leader. His leadership within the Labor party is remembered alongside a bitter political rivalry with his “partner” Shimon Peres. His pursuit of peace with the Palestinians and tragic assassination highlighted deep divisions in Israeli society with regards to the peace process that continue until today.
Rabin was not the perfect politician and his legacy continues to be remembered differently by those who believe in different ideologies. However, he is remembered almost universally for devoting his life to the service of Israel, not himself. In the first episode of “The Critically Zionist Podcast”, we remembered Rabin’s legacy. We hope that an honest reckoning with the past can help us learn how to overcome the challenges of today and help to inspire a positive vision for the future.
You can listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to Podcasts.
Shuki and Noam
You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify, Anchor, or search for “The Critically Zionist Podcast,” wherever you listen to podcasts. Make sure to subscribe to get updates when we release new episodes. You can also like and follow our page on Facebook and subscribe to our channel on YouTube, to see shorter clips of the episodes we post.
Please send us your thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions for future episodes at firstname.lastname@example.org
JOSH HARTUV is the Host of The Critically Zionist Podcast and an Israeli tour guide for Hartuv Tours (check out his virtual tours at TOI’s Israel Unlocked!) married to Abi and Abba to Maayan. From Hamilton, Ontario, a die-hard Blue Jays fan, Dead Head, and beer and whisky enthusiast. They live in Tel Aviv and are active members of the Havura Tel Aviv – an egalitarian minyan in Tel Aviv.