The problem with Bibi Netanyahu

The year 1964 was a seminal one for the American cinema.  Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn had proven that a fair lady can serve as a box office bombshell. James Bond was almost sliced in half by Goldfinger’s laser beam, The Beatles had just finished A hard day’s night and Elvis Presley’s thighs were swaying to the beat of Viva Las Vegas.  But it was the story of a theatre owner in the state of Ohio that would forever mark that year.

In march of 1963, Nico Jacobellis, the manager of a theatre in Cleveland Ohio, was convicted and fined 2500$ for exhibiting the French film The Lovers (Les Amants) which was deemed as obscene by the state of Ohio. One year later, the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction stating that the film was not obscene and was therefore protected under the First Amendment of the American Constitution. When asked to describe what can be regarded as obscene, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that he could not define it but “I know it when I see it”.

Oddly enough, the same can be said for true leadership. While many have attempted to define the characteristics and traits that turn a person into a leader, the truth is much simpler-we know it when we see it. And it is nowhere to be seen in Israel’s current leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Three years into his second term as Prime Minister, Netanyahu has managed to avoid making any major decisions be it in domestic or foreign matters. No daring reforms, no groundbreaking statements and no shifts in policy. Unlike the U.S.S Enterprise, which boldly goes where no man has gone before, the Prime Minister is the captain of the U.S.S Status Quo whose ongoing mission is to stand ground.

Thus, it seems strange that many Israelis now hope that Netanyahu will alter the historic agreement reached by his idol David Ben Gurion and redefine the relationship between the Israeli secular majority and the Haridi minority.

The masses that protested Saturday night outside the Tel Aviv Museum, in what has been dubbed the “Suckers protest”, urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to adopt the principles of the Plesner committee and enact “national service for all”.

Dressed in their IDF reserves uniforms, the Suckers called for a more just society in which all citizens share the burden of Israel’s existence both financially and militarily. One of the protesters told me that the Netanyahu Mofaz coalition, established just two months ago, is the first government in Israel’s history that could actually bring about the much wanted change.

Yet such a move would lead to a profound change in Israeli society as the Ultra-Orthodox minority would be forced to carry the load with the rest of us. The inclusion of this minority in the workforce, armed forces or national service would constitute the most dramatic shift in domestic policy in recent history.

As Spock, the First Officer onboard the starship Enterprise might have commented, this occurrence seems highly improbable given the Prime Minister’s track record.

The problem with Bibi Netanyahu isn’t that he doesn’t get it or that he can’t sell it; the problem with Netanyahu is that he can’t do it. In his six years in power, the PM has proven himself unable to reach any decision of profound importance. As Netanyahu told AIPAC several months ago, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck it must be a duck. In his case, a lame duck.

In a recent interview to the German newspaper the Bild, The Israeli Prime Minister commented that it was his wife, Sarah, who ultimately convinced him to reach his most dramatic decision to date- the release of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit. It is fair to assume that Netanyahu would not follow his wife’s advice should she stand alongside the Suckers as what the Prime Ministers lacks in the Roman Gravitas he more than makes up for in political savvy.

Unlike Kadima, which might attract potential secular Likud voters, the Ultra-Orthodox parties do not contend for the same voters as the Likud party. Therefore, when push comes to shove, Netanyahu would much rather side with the religious parties than with Mofaz. In that case, Kadima might leave the government and head for elections only to find itself running on the Plesner ticket alongside TV personality Yair Lapid, the Labour party and Haim Ramon’s “party of the week”.

Julius Caesar’s divide and conquer at its finest.

Benjamin Netanyahu has always surrounded himself with many Professor Higgins’ working on diction, delivery and appearance.  Yet he has never morphed into a fair leader. By George, he simply hasn’t got it.

Ilan Manor

About the Author
Dr. Ilan Manor (PhD Oxford University) is a diplomacy scholar at Tel Aviv University. Manor's recent book, The Digitalization of Diplomacy, explores how digital technologies have reshaped diplomatic practices. Manor has contributed to several publications including The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. According to his Twitter bio, Manor is the inventor of the ashtray. He blogs at