November 2016, a month that had all the charm of a ditch in a road to nowhere. It got off on the wrong foot when Coalition Chairman David Bitan declared at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset that Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination was “not political.” This baffling message was repeated to an unbelieving crowd at the annual memorial assembly that was held on November 5th in Rabin Square. Once again I stood among those many Israelis who understand why Rabin was killed, and shared with them the awful thought that after so many years roughly half the country still hasn’t grasped, and continues to waste, Rabin’s legacy. Along with the late Shimon Peres, Rabin got us started on a path of reconciliation with our neighbors. This worthy agenda continues to arouse the scorn of the Greater Israel camp, its ultra-orthodox allies and the extremist government they keep in power.
These unpromising thoughts were soothed in the coming days with the wishful vision that Madame President will somehow get Bibi Netanyahu back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. But on November 8th the tables were turned and the very earth trembled beneath the shadow of Donald Trump. So much has been written about this repulsive person, this loose cannon with the fire-starting big mouth, this highly unlikely President Elect who will soon hold the nuclear codes. One can only guess what the future may bring. Dark days ahead for America and all it stands for, the democratic ideals that made it great long before that demagogic Trump diminished its greatness by awakening, and perhaps unleashing, its evil forces of white supremacy. And maybe even darker days ahead for Israel, whose biggest ally is now being led astray by this one-man natural phenomenon and beholden-to-no-one billionaire.
The aftershocks of the election were made manifest by the cries of “Not My President” countered by the threats of all riled up neo-Nazis crawling out of their holes to trample on the crumbling mosaic of a bitterly divided America.
Then, just when it seemed that the worst happened, everyone’s attention was diverted back to Israel, that constant flashpoint where sequential brush fires destroyed hundreds of homes, thousands of trees and countless wildlife in a matter of days. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the man who is supposed to set an example for our kids, wasted no time feeding the flames with the heated remark that “they could only be started by someone who this land does not belong to.” You have to hand it to our number one educator: He made his accusation and restated the claim for Greater Israel all in one sentence. Bibi of course let his coalition partner run his mouth off, ignoring the dangers of inflaming both the Israeli Arab and Palestinian populations in an already highly flammable situation. As always, Bibi’s game plan is clear: Keep every two Israelis divided, keep all Israelis and Palestinians divided and above all preserve the stability of his ultra-nationalist government.
In this god-awful November, Bibi, while facing an actual threat to topple that government, broke the old Israeli record set by David Ben-Gurion for the longest consecutive term as Prime Minister. As if to rub salt in the wounds of guys like me who hope for change, Bibi told his Likud supporters: “You can all relax. I am going to be with you still for a long time.” This cheered me with the thought: In the worst case, Trump’s term will expire after eight years, but Bibi’s reign of mediocrity may outlive me.
Then, with the calendar month fast expiring, I got online and found a glimmer of hope: a potential candidate to unseat Bibi who makes perfect good sense. I must say that I agree with every word this hypothetical challenger says. For example:
“In a broad, level-headed historical view, the fact that Jordanian and Egyptian planes came here with their crews to fight the fire, that firefighters from the Palestinian Authority worked alongside our firefighters to face the blazes, and that Israeli Arabs opened their doors to host Jewish families – these are the most important elements of the picture.”
The good news is that these sensible, thought provoking words come from the mouth of a former IDF Chief of Staff – the best credential for leadership in the minds of many Israeli voters – who is apparently posturing himself to challenge Bibi Netanyahu in the next national elections.
Now for the bad news: that old soldier is former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a widely discredited politician on the comeback trail who is as unpopular and stands as much a chance of winning as “Buji” Herzog.
And here comes the ugly truth: That’s the very best the world’s great democracies have to offer nowadays, choices between bad candidates. Unless we resolve that we can do better, the next time we go to the polls all we’ll have to look forward to is another choice between the bad and the even worse, an Israeli version of Horrible Hillary vs. Terrible Trump.