Barry Newman

The Conspicuous Absence of Israel’s Person of the Year

As each Gregorian year comes to a close, I, along with thousands of others, try to predict who will be selected as Time magazine’s Person of the Year. While the annual selection for Man of the Year have been made since 1927 (the first was Charles Lindberg), the magazine realized in 1999 that the times were indeed a changin’ and modified the honorific to Person of the Year, even though several women were in fact so honored decades before the end of the millennium. In recent years, innovations, concepts, and movements have been considered along with more organic competitors for the selection, as long as the basic criteria of being a person, group, idea, or object that “for better or for worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year” has been met.

The selection for Year 2022 Person of the Year – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – was not unexpected, even though he had some stiff competition from fellow finalists China President Xi Jinping, the US Supreme Court, and Elon Musk. There’s little question that the Ukrainian leader, in the words of Time magazine’s editor in chief, “galvanized the world in a way we haven’t seen in decades” and was more than deserving of this prestigious recognition.

Locally, pundits and critics have been busy over the last week or so identifying the annual “10 Best…” in just about every area of current events and culture. Books, television shows, movies, noteworthy events, and the like have been neatly packaged as numbered lists and presented as the best of the best for Year 2022. Oddly, though, nowhere in the Israeli media has a Person of the Year been designated, which, to be honest, comes as no surprise. Looking back over the last twelve months, it would be hard to identify any single Israeli individual, movement, or technical achievement that in any way meets Time magazine’s criteria for Person of the Year. The closest may be the Inquisitional-like coalition that newly designated Prime Minister Netanyahu cobbled together, but insofar as they have only very recently assumed their designated appointments, it cannot be concluded that they impacted events of the year in any significant way – for better or worse.

There is, to be sure, a strong argument that Bibi himself should most certainly be considered for the accolade. He did, after all, crawl out from what everybody assumed was political oblivion to, once again, assume the center position at the table. I think, though, that the legal baggage he’s been dragging around for the last several years cannot be overlooked or ignored. Until such time as he is fully exonerated from any wrongdoing, it would be irresponsible to bestow upon him and mention of honor or achievement. On the other hand, if in the unlikely event he is to be found guilty of any wrongdoing and winds up behind bars, he would most assuredly be the frontrunner for Year 2023 Person of the Year.

Yair Lapid might certainly have been a strong contender had the recent elections turned out in his favor. It’s not that he achieved anything spectacular during his tenure first as the rotational prime minister and then as the interim prime minister, although there were some noteworthy security-related actions that were taken during his watch. He did provide an anchor of sorts during the always turbulent period of elections, and his appointment as prime minister was virtually seamless despite the rather sudden and unexpected way Naftali Bennett resigned. But the argument that he was to no small extent responsible for the left’s somewhat pronounced defeat is not without merit. Whereas Bibi understood the political necessity of having Otzma Yehudit and the Religious Zionist Party merge under a single ballot, Lapid irresponsibly ignored the never-ending polls that predicted doom if Labor and Meretz were to remain separate parties. Granted, the polls are not – and never have been – sacrosanct, but they do provide some semblance of what the future holds. By ignoring them, Lapid not only prevented the likelihood that a far-right coalition would control the next government, he denied himself the opportunity of being heralded as 2022 Person of the Year.

If being a major talking-point was a qualifying factor for Person of the Year, Itamar Ben-Gvir would undoubtedly have been one of the leading contenders. He was at the center of most political conversations for the better part of 2022, and was wily enough to have his voice heard during the terrorist actions that took place during the year. That he was the star of the elections cannot be refuted; a meaningful segment of the Israeli electorate was convinced that this right-wing, gun toting, kippah-wearing cowboy would restore calm and order. I suspect, however, that Ben-Gvir will find it more than a little difficult to fulfill his campaign promises, particularly since they border on racism and the suppression of civil liberties. Success at the ballot box, by itself, is not a criterion for the Person of the Year honor. Ben-Gvir and his party may simply have lucked out by being at the right place at the right time, and how much influence he’ll actually have has yet to be determined.

There was a flurry of communal dissent when Osem announced last winter that it was going to raise the price on a number of its more popular products, and for while it looked like there would be a repeat of the Cottage Cheese Protest of 2011. Such public activism would have definitely earned consideration for the Person of the Year accolade, but the government quickly stepped in and convinced the food giant to cancel its planned price increases. Shrilly worded placards and threats of consumer boycotts were, thankfully, not required. For now, anyway.

And, finally, the Start Up Nation has, not surprisingly, slowed down as has the Israeli high-tech industry. Digital solutions for the communications, agriculture, medical and financial sectors are still being developed and exported, but many of the firms that comprise Israel’s version of Silicon Valley are downsizing, with personnel layoffs rather than high profile contracts and acquisitions capturing most of the headlines. The Holy Land’s ubiquitous algorithm will, alas, have to wait for another year to be crowned Person of the Year.

It’s fair to conclude, then, that 2022 ended with a whimper rather than with a bang. On the other hand, we bid farewell to the year with a great deal of anticipation for the coming year. The new coalition will provide some exciting – if not always positive – drama, both domestically and internationally. A bullseye has been drawn on the back of Iran, which very well may bring unprecedented challenges to our military forces. Tourism is slowly reawakening from its COVID-inspired hibernation. And Israeli artists, musicians, film makers and chefs are enjoying an ever-increasing and appreciated presence throughout the world.

So, deciding who will be Israel’s 2023 Person of the Year will, too, be difficult. This time, though, rather than a dirge of qualified competitors, there will be, happily, a robust group from which to choose.

About the Author
Born and raised on New York’s Lower East Side, Barry's family made aliya in 1985. He worked as a Technical Writer for most of his professional life (with a brief respite for a venture in catering) and currently provides ad hoc assistance to amutot in the preparation of requests for grants. And not inconsequently, he is a survivor of stage 4 bladder cancer, and though he doesn't wake up each day smelling the roses, he has an appreciation of what it means to be alive.
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