Barukh Binah
policy fellow, writer and former ambassador

The Death of All Concepts

Ready for the Returning Hostages Dinner, Tel Aviv Museum. (courtesy)
Ready for the Returning Hostages Dinner, Tel Aviv Museum. (courtesy)

In the Book of Judges, we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Indeed, there is no government in Israel but a bunch of frightened politicians trying to save their behinds and a prime minister preparing for the National Commission of Inquiry that will surely follow this awful war in which we live. And, out of the history books, there sprang again the appalling idea of Concept!

Our historical concept failure occurred in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Still, it was not the first one, beginning with Chamberlain’s Appeasement, France’s Maginot line, Hitler’s blitzkrieg, or Stalin’s conviction that Germany would not attack Russia. All these concepts have collapsed, but some recent Israeli concepts may be crumbling now before our eyes after the October 7 Hamas attack.

The Jewish defense concept considered Israel as the insurance policy of the entire Jewish people, bearing the title of “never again.” However, the Hamas attack revived old Jewish terrors when Jewish families had to hide in closets and attics, just like their ancestors in the ghettos did. It was like the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 all over again, only this time it happened in the proud and sovereign state of Israel, where the illustrious IDF was supposed to prevent it.

The “Time Is on Our Side” Concept: Israel has lived in the belief that there is no urgency in the Palestinian issue. The public lived happily behind sophisticated fences (even if they chose a less sophisticated government). “Hamas is deterred,” our prime minister repeated in his deep and confident baritone voice. Indeed, Israel signed the “Abraham Accords” without a solution for the Palestinians. No one in the Middle East likes the Palestinians, so there is no need to discuss the territories or the inheritance of our ancestors. The concept works, and you can go on with the sacred settlement enterprise and with the pampering all-inclusive weekends in Antalya (and even the flights to the body-massage sanctuaries in Thailand were shortened significantly due to the flying over the Saudi airspace!).

The Start-Up Nation Economic Miracle Concept: even on the economic level, it seemed that our situation was excellent, repeated the various finance ministers. And if the Orange President replaces the sleepy one in the USA, our relations with our great ally will improve even more.

The Acceptability Concept: We are developing alliances with essential member states of the European Union, including Poland, Hungary, and Italy, so all is well on that front.

The Political Stability Concept: even on the political level, we have come to rest when, after five grueling election campaigns, we finally have a stable government based on a comfortable majority coalition of sixty-four seats led by a strong leader.

In short, we have never had it so good. Right?


These concepts were built over decades of self-satisfied denseness. However, our authoritarian prime minister lost much of his makeup glow in the face of the collapse of the border fence, the swift occupation of kibbutzim and military strongholds, and the horrific abuse of civilians. The malice and evil of the Hamas invasion sent a terrible shockwave up the Israeli spine. The death toll is unfathomable, and the lateness of our military response would never be understood. The number of hostages is an incomprehensible abyss, and the reports of what the Hamas murderers did to the men, children, babies, and especially to the women who were abducted arouse uncontainable anger and an understandable desire for revenge. Against this background, the chilling statement of the prophet Jeremiah resurfaces as he says: “Do not weep for the dead and do not mourn for him; weep for him who had gone because he will never come back and see his native land.”

Against the background of the affectionate response of the US President Joe Biden, one question was raised: where is the prime minister of Israel? Why did he not take responsibility for this debacle? Why does he still refrain from speaking directly to the people of Israel? Why does he address us through some pompous statements? Why does his wife not visit the injured civilians and soldiers or the families of the kidnapped? Why did civilian groups have to take command of the care of the missing persons and their families, and why did the government disappear so miserably? What is happening here in our beloved country, and how did we fall with these unworthy individuals? For the first time since the Holocaust, the insurance policy of the Jewish people did not provide coverage for the slain. At the same time, the underwriter may have gone elsewhere, and his clients experienced and endured the horrors of a Kishinev-type pogrom.

Even before the war, the notoriously malfunctioning government included unnecessary offices given to delusional ministers as political payoffs. Today, however, the recently concocted emergency government that was finally yanked out of the political rabble has about one-third (!) of the entire membership of the Knesset. It is mind-boggling.  It is a political hybrid, weak and awkward, that cannot reduce one iota of the powers given to the failed prime minister. Messrs. Gantz, Eisenkot, and Sa’ar may provide sound advice, but the prime minister will be the one to make the decisions. It took nine days in this war until a cabinet member (the minister of finance) stood up and said the right words: “We failed.” we will remember him, and we will remember appreciatively the chief of staff who admitted to the failure from the outset. He was followed by several other officials, including the heads of the security forces and the defense minister, but not by Netanyahu. His humanoid megaphones repeated the slogan that it was not the prime minister’s business. Responsibility is probably not in his genetic code.

Israel was divided between members of the Bibi cult and the regular people. Ardent Bibists went so far as to shower steamy wet kisses on Netanyahu’s cheeks (and sometimes they settled for his posters), and the general civilian public wanted a prime minister who came to work for them. In our parliamentary system, no mechanism can remove a sitting prime minister, even if his failure is apparent (as in the current situation). His boast of being a super-leader was exposed as an empty vessel. Still, nothing will happen until senior Likud figures stand up and show Netanyahu the way out, just as senior members of Britain’s conservative party did to Margaret Thatcher, despite her achievements.

This Premier League leader image was perhaps the most dominant Israeli concept in recent decades. It brings the universal call that the failed and self-centered Netanyahu must go. The justified fears of a Netanyahu-inaugurated judicial coup are not sufficient. It is not enough to oppose settler violence and lack of ability to govern (e.g.,  the Mount Meron tragedy, where 45 worshipers perished due to faulty planning, of which Netanyahu only murmured that nobody had “pulled him by his lapels” to alert him to the danger). It is not enough to avoid lack of governance and bad management. It is certainly not enough to look the other way vis-à-vis the incessant murder within the Arab sector. It is also insufficient to hand out the nation’s assets to those who do not serve the country but milk its resources and challenge its existence and values.

Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, “It may be we shall touch the happy isles.” it may be that this murderous surprise attack launched on us will bring about the understanding that the concept of the Premier League leader has also collapsed, and not only the notion of “never was our situation so good” or that there is no need to deal with the Palestinian issue.

This week, when we remember our fallen prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, we know that there is neither a king nor a government in Israel, but we must start a new Bibi-free era. We must replace the culture of entrenched concepts with a practical culture of responsible, decent, clean-headed, and serving leadership focused on analysis and performance in all realms as required by a modern nation.

About the Author
Ambassador (ret.) Barukh Binah is a policy fellow at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He is also a member of the Foreign Policy Forum and of Commanders for Israel's Security. He has served in a variety of diplomatic positions vis-à-vis the United States, including Spokesman in New York, Consul General in Chicago, Deputy Head of Mission in Washington DC and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem,  heading the North American Division. He also served as Israel's ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark. in 2017 he published a poetry book, "it only seems like healing", and recently published his book, "Sonia McConnel and other Stories"
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