Who lives, who dies, who tells your story. These words are lyrics from the musical, Hamilton. The song they are from reflects on the idea of legacy – who decides what yours is and how the story of your life is told. These words have been running through my mind for days now. While these words were written with regard to Alexander Hamilton’s life, they are no less poignant than when speaking of another politician – Binyamin Netanyahu.
There has been much talk about Netanyahu’s accomplishments and failures in the last 2 years. There has been even more talk recently about where Netanyahu will be 3 months from now. While I don’t have a crystal ball or any psychic ability to be able to answer that question, I do think that now is the time to think about his legacy. For it is our lives and livelihoods that Netanyahu has held in his hands – no more so than in the last year.
While there has been a lot of focus from both the left and the right on Bibi’s failings of late – criminal and political – it would be dishonest and a dismissal of fact to deny that he is one of the greatest Prime Ministers and leaders in Israel’s history. He did not become the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history by chance or by accident. For better or worse, the majority of Israel felt that he was the best person suited to lead this country for the last 11 years. Bibi has accomplished things in this country that Israelis of the past would never have dreamed possible. This year alone saw a major shift in the way we and the world at large see the Middle East and possibilities for peace and cooperation in the region. Binyamin Netanyahu is a master at diplomacy and respected all around the world. He has largely avoided entering into any major wars and managed to end military operations fairly swiftly. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the way military matters were handled, in this region it is still an impressive feat. Even now, heading into our fourth election in two years, a result of what is largely seen as Netanyahu’s failures and quest to remain in power for personal gain, many Israelis still feel that he is the best man for the job and plan on voting for him again. Yet regardless of all of this, there is still an overwhelming push to remove him from office going even as far as to say that his continued leadership is a doomed endeavor.
Over the years, I have read articles about TV series’ ending at the height of their popularity. When the creators are asked why they chose to end their series at that point, they almost always say that they’d prefer to go out on top, so that the series will be remembered well, as opposed to being forced out when fans are sick of them. It’s their way of preserving their legacy. I think it’s safe to say that Bibi Netanyahu has reached his peak. I don’t know what the future holds and what other tricks Bibi may have up his sleeve or how much longer he can ride out his continued popularity. It is clear though, that the next few months will be critical in determining his survival. But political survival alone will not be what determines Bibi’s legacy. In fact, it isn’t even Bibi himself who will determine what his legacy will be. It is us, the citizens of Israel, who will remember him and will tell his story.
Bibi could have bowed out before launching us into two years of political unrest. He could have bowed out when he surpassed Ben-Gurion’s record for years in office. That may have been the smarter choice for him and had he done so, he would have been assured an exit from political life that was dignified, respected and possibly revered. That did not happen though and now, that choice may well be taken away from him. Depending on how he handles himself and the country in these next few months, when people are losing their lives, their savings, their sanity even, he can be remembered for grace in victory or defeat. Or he can be remembered as the man who held on well past his prime. At this time, it is unfortunate that given all of his accomplishments, he will likely miss his chance to leave in a blaze of glory.
I believe that he has time to change things though. By all accounts, we are seeing the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. Bibi can see us through this last hurdle, ensure that his citizens are vaccinated and take steps to get the economy back on track. He can make our exit from Covid and his many recent peace deals with our Arab neighbors his crowning achievement. And then, he can take his leave. The opportunity to leave on a high doesn’t come around all that often. Bibi has possibly a last chance to leave with a legacy that he can be proud of and be remembered for. As someone who hopes to remember Bibi for being the phenomenal leader that he is, my sincerest hope is that he doesn’t throw away his shot.