Emanuel Shahaf

The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In an 2007 article in “Vanity Fair”, the editor, Graydon Carter, referred to the three horsemen of the apocalypse as “arrogance”, “ignorance” and “incompetence”. At that time he was referring to the performance of the Bush administration. Here in Israel, the Netanyahu government certainly fits that bill. A government so full of arrogance that it feels completely at ease determining publicly who in the Middle East is entitled to what kind of weaponry and who isn’t, a government whose ignorance of the economic hardship of large segments of the population knows no bounds and a government whose incompetence has left Israel with housing prices beyond reach for the average citizen and our foreign relations in shambles.


Only once in recent history has the leader of a country that is not exactly a world power, taken upon himself to publicly determine who in the region is entitled to bear what weapons. That was Menachem Begin when he enunciated the Begin doctrine 30 years ago, after Israel’s attack on the Iraqi Nuclear reactor, an attack incidentally that sparked the Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Now, Netanyahu has laid down a similar threshold except that he did it before any operational action was taken. Let’s be clear about it: There is a difference of what one does behind the scenes and out of the limelight and what is brought out in the open. I think it is clear to everyone that positions taken openly are much more likely to generate even violent responses since public humiliation cannot be left unaddressed. And publicly denying another sovereign country a right that Israel takes for granted is arrogant and humiliating. Nevertheless, Netanyahu has taken that position in public and hundreds of millions of people the world over view this as the arrogance of power.

At the same time as he has taken that position, Netanyahu has done nothing whatsoever to address the concerns of those very people who view us as an arrogant power. Muslims the world over are concerned for their Palestinian brethren who they see suffering under Israeli rule. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is plenty of hypocrisy involved here and Muslims, for some reason, have less problems with the mass murder of fellow Muslims by other Muslims in Syria or Iraq than with our mostly less terminal ill-treatment of Palestinians in Israeli controlled territory. But that is for Muslims to resolve among themselves. And whenever we scream “hypocrisy” let’s remember our own questionable behavior when we shunned, for years, any criticism of Turkey over the Armenian Genocide as long as it wasn’t politically convenient.

And it’s not only the Muslims who are routing for the Palestinians, it’s the Europeans and the Americans as well. But hey, we’ve done it all. We really tried to make peace, didn’t we ?

Israel today is not willing to start negotiating under the premise that a future agreement will be based on the 67 lines with mutually acceptable territorial exchanges. This formula has been chucked into the dustbin of history by the Netanyahu government. Needless to say we never saw fit to respond to the Arab Peace initiative of 2002. The government has also not removed most illegal settlements, has insisted on continued construction except for a 6 months hiatus during which everything was done to prevent negotiations like demanding up-front recognition of Israel as the State of the Jewish People. Just recently we threw our own refugees from Arab countries into the ring, just in case things weren’t difficult enough.

Any neutral observer who looks at this conflict will come to the conclusion that Israel is not really interested in negotiations, let alone an agreement. The Palestinians? They appear to be more willing to negotiate but with the present level of distrust  are desperately in need of expressions of good faith, nothing this government is likely to even consider. But why rush things when we have all the time in the world.


The government systematically ignores the economic situation of the lower strata in the population whose social mobility is demonstrably non existent and whose poverty has been assured for generations. Public education, the only path to social mobility, is undergoing continuous privatization making equitable and compensatory treatment of the disadvantaged ever more difficult, even impossible. The richer municipalities will have the resources to take care of those whose social standing is already assured and the poorer ones will have to do with government handouts which are being cut as we speak. After all we don’t want big government do we ?

While the country continues to maintain an enviable level of employment when compared to most other developed countries, the numbers are misleading for two reasons: Israel has one of the lowest level of employment in the Western world (percentage of population employed) and a considerable part of the employment is either partial, or at minimum or low salaries, or frequently without full social benefits. This government has done little if anything to alleviate these imbalances and has not invested sufficiently in infrastructure to create more gainful employment. While taking credit for the unprecedented rise of high-tech industries these in fact serve only a small part of the work-force and even in that segment, some of the employment practices are highly problematic. While workers appear to make good monthly salaries, when calculating the salary per working hour, it can come close to the minimum salary as determined by law. Needless to say, income differentials in Israel are the 2nd largest in the developed world, right after the US.

Pension arrangements have only fairly recently been mandated by law and the money invested in the pension funds is not well protected, if at all. After releasing huge amounts of accumulated savings into the stock and bond market when Netanyahu was Minister of Finance, some of those pension funds have been funneled into speculative ventures, among them real-estate funds outside the country. When these went South the inevitable haircuts are doing their share to damage the savings of thousands. Pension funds have to be protected from speculation and exorbitant management fees, even at the cost of losing out on potential profits.

Large corporations have received tax rebates beyond reason in a time when the government is scurrying for revenue and is cutting public services left, right and center. Private individuals should only be so lucky to get tax rebates as the largest corporations in Israel had no problem of securing for themselves.


This government is probably the most incompetent government running the country since independence. Not that there hasn’t been competition but let’s look at some choice demonstrations of what this government is not capable of: Public housing. No such thing, or to be exact, almost no such thing. Despite the fact that the government is unable or unwilling to get a grip on housing prices which continue to rise, fueled by easy credit and low interest rates, courtesy of the Bank of Israel,  public housing is nowhere to be seen (only rental subsidies for the neediest and some alleviation for the Charedi population). The government has an almost total control of the price of the land but will not give it for free or do anything else to alleviate a housing shortage which makes life miserable for young couples and sends them to look for better places in Australia and Canada.

Foreign relations – while this section is covered partially under “arrogance”, incompetence rules when it comes to our relations with Turkey, the US and Europe. We knew that Erdogan had decided to take up the case of Gaza and we knew that Olmert’s incredible gaffe not to tell him about “Cast Lead” when he was meeting with him the evening before the attack must have created bad blood. FM Avigdor Lieberman’s public rebuke of the Turkish Ambassador in 2009 (over an anti-semitic TV series)  and Deputy FM Dany Ayalon’s special kind of diplomacy applied to the same Ambassador in 2010, was just the icing on the cake.  Under those circumstances one would have thought that dealing with an ostensibly humanitarian flotilla from Turkey later in 2010 would have commanded some serious preparations and careful deliberations to avoid serious harm to an already overburdened relationship.

We all know the outcome of that crisis which could not have been worse unless we had sunk the Mavi Marmara with all lives lost. So in order to maintain a pretty useless naval blockade of Gaza (after all what can’t go through the tunnels?) we decided to risk what was left of our relationship with Turkey by dealing with a humanitarian flotilla as aggressively as we did. Apologize ? Not us. We don’t do apologies, no matter how appropriate or politically mandated.

I could go on about relations with the US and Europe but you do get the picture.

Let’s think positive, elections are close and the citizens of Israel will have the opportunity to kick this government out. If anybody thinks it deserves to stay, they better have some damn good reason. I can’t think of one.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".