Mick Davis

The expansionist government that shrunk the country

True leaders are honest about the challenges and advance strategies to address them. Instead, Israel is ruled by demagogues

It is deeply ironic that this Israeli government, constituted by parties that not only refuse to contemplate an independent Palestine but who strive to make Israel bigger by settling and annexing the West Bank (and even Gaza), has made Israel smaller. Tens of thousands of Israelis in the north remain evacuated leaving a string of ghost towns along the Lebanese border as the government fails to constructively address the threat of Hezbollah. In the south, tens of thousands of Israelis have been forced to flee to temporary accommodation in the center of the country as a result of the barbaric Hamas attack on October 7th which this government failed to predict, prevent or prepare for.

A government with any decency or humility would have resigned but not this one. Instead, with Israel facing threats that demand greater domestic cohesion and international partnership than ever, this government undermines both while indulging its wildest ideological fantasies.

We see Ben Gvir and others within the government fantasizing about Jewish resettlement in Gaza, indulged by the prime minister, as Israel’s allies and advocates around the world look on in disbelief. We see Smotrich boasting about the government’s plan to introduce Israeli civilian, rather than military, rule to the West Bank. And within Israel, we see some police who answer to these leaders using roughhouse tactics against peaceful protesters including even the families of those held hostage by Hamas.

None of this will make Israel more secure. It won’t bring the citizens of Kiryat Shmona in the north or Kfar Aza in the south back to their homes or bring the hostages held by Hamas back to their families. Daydreaming about expanding Israeli rule while in reality, the country shrinks, all while driving wedges between both citizens and allies is not leadership but demagoguery.

But this is not just a deficit of leadership on the part of Israel’s government. A culture of democracy doesn’t simply leave decisions that determine the fate of a country to elected leaders but depends on constant participation and engagement to hold those leaders to account. And in this respect, there is a collective failure. How is it possible that Israel’s citizens tolerate such staggering misrule? How does Diaspora Jewry not raise its voice? Nearly 9 months into a war that was forced upon it by a genocidal foe it is abhorrent that Israel’s own government is an obstacle to making the case for Israel’s actions rather than an asset.

True leaders need to be honest about the challenges and advance strategies to address them. There needs to be a plan in place immediately for an alternative government to Hamas in Gaza, without which any gains made on the battlefield will be short-lived. The Israeli people are desperate for the return of their hostages from Gaza but if you look at the numbers of those rescued, heroically, by military operations it is clear that the best way to bring them home will not be ongoing war.

I pray for the day when alternative leaders really stand up and when they do, they will understand that the best way to get the hostages back is not an ongoing war of diminishing returns in Gaza but a campaign that incorporates a deliverable strategy, including for an alternative government to Hamas in Gaza.

We need leaders to be honest and admit the status quo ante with the Palestinians was an unsustainable paradigm – one that needs to be replaced with a credible process that rebuilds Palestinian capacity to govern themselves. We need leaders who accept that geographical separation from the Palestinians is the only way to give long-term quiet a chance as well as being a prerequisite for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

It is true that there are good reasons why such ideas have fallen out of favor with the Israeli public. But it is a failure of leadership to explain honestly that there is no other credible solution and “managing the conflict” is demonstrably flawed policy with far greater and deadlier risks. Real leadership doesn’t pander to fears but overcomes them.

We need leaders who recognize that a regional coalition with Saudi Arabia and Arab states is there to be built and must not be taken for granted but is a cornerstone of Israel’s strategic interests. At the same time, people in Israel need leadership capable of giving them practical hope that they may return to their homes in the northern Galil, leaving no stone unturned in the search for both diplomatic and military solutions to the threat of Hezbollah – a far stronger threat than Hamas. Instead, we have leadership that allows the northern border to fester, while it bogs itself down in an interminable war in Gaza, alienating allies with no strategic goal in sight.

Whether Israeli citizens or Diaspora Jews we cannot just hope for new and brave leadership to emerge but must demand it. The protest movement in Israel was a remarkable example of Israelis demanding better and still can be if Israelis, supported by Jews around the world, demand better leadership on the steps of the Knesset, in our workplaces, and places of prayer. It is the most important existential action that all Israel must embrace. If not, we are condemned to be forever led by those who huff and puff, dreaming of grand plans grounded in fantasy rather than reality, but who succeed only in making our national home smaller, more divided and more isolated.

About the Author
Mick Davis is a former chief executive of the Conservative Party, a former chairman of the UK Jewish Leadership Council and UJIA, and an international businessman.