Why Israel Needs a Prime Minister from Gryffindor

After ten years of Slytherin-style leadership – it is high time that Israel have a Prime Minister from Gryffindor!” That was my spontaneous response when asked by my family as to why I had thrown my lot in with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party. For the many people who find the magical reality of J.K. Rowling a source of inspiration and are looking for insights about how to vote next month — I would suggest considering the wisdom found in the world of Harry Potter.

Political Science scholars have spent decades developing arcane psychological profiles that characterize different brands of leadership. But the division into four prototypic student types at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry may well be more precise than conventional academic categories. Indeed, it provides a valuable basis for making a decision about the upcoming Israeli elections.

In explaining how the school assigns first year students to rival houses, the book employs a rhyming epigram:

You might belong in Gryffindor, Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry, Set Gryffindors apart…;

Or alternatively:

Perhaps in Slytherin, You’ll make your real friends,
These cunning folks use any means To achieve their ends.

The two leading candidates for Prime Minister, Netanyahu and Gantz – offer a clear contrast personifying the competing models. The Hogwarts’ “sorting hat” would not hesitate for a second: Netanyahu, a genius tactician – but in recent years, noticeably lacking in ethical constraints when pursuing his objectives — is a model of the manipulative Slytherin modus operandi. Substantively, the parallels are also resounding. Slytherin leadership frequently seeks to translate prevailing discomfort in the wizarding world, about the “other” — the non-magical Muggle majority — into intolerant racist policies. Under Netanyahu, the disingenuous stoking of latent Israeli fears and racist impulses has become a predictable campaign strategy

The last election result was won by his last minute, impassioned plea to “Stop Arabs who were galloping in their buses to the polls”. This time around the Prime Minister is pushing the mantra of “Bibi” or “Tibi” – in a reference to Ahmed Tibi, the Arab-Israeli-obstetrician-turned-Knesset-member, who is relentless in his calls for greater Palestinian national defiance among minority citizens. The implication of the Likud present party line is that any alternative to Bibi’s leadership constitutes an anti-Zionist, Arab conspiracy. No better way to motivate voters than “fear” and “loathing”.

In the wizarding world, the most fanatical expression of racial prejudice is manifested in Voldemort’s Death Eaters. In Israel we have the ugly, xenophobia of Kahanism, with its calls for expulsion of Arabs and calls for criminalization of relations between Jews and Arabs. Fearing that Jewish extremist votes might be lost to his right-wing coalition block, Netanyahu single-handedly engineered the integration of the Kahanist “Otzma Yehudit” party into the Israeli political mainstream. Believing it might give him a modest electoral boost, he happily opened the door to Israel’s own “Death Eaters”

Those of us who have been lucky enough to serve and work with Benny Gantz over the years know that he manifests the very best of the Gryffindor House ideal: an unshakable sense of “right and wrong”, powerful personal loyalty, a touch of naivete, a weakness for singing and fearlessness in battle. For those less familiar – even a modest effort to move beyond the barrage of fake news and review of Gantz’s actual record — reveals an extraordinary human being: smart, professional, fair, congenial and bold.

While acknowledging the legitimacy of this particular classifications – my daughters (whose Harry Potter expertise far exceeds my own) suggest that framing the Israeli political playing field as a dichotomy, is far too simplistic and one-dimensional. There are of course, four houses in Hogwarts which create a far greater complexity that informs the players on Israel’s political map.

The Labor party, it is argued, has a strong “Hufflepuff” tradition. During the past years, however, it has been captured by its new chair, Avi Gabai, who on countless occasions has exposed his own indisputable “Slytherin” orientation: from the unceremonious dismissal of Tzipi Livni to his nihilistic views and statements on everything from recycling to asylum seekers. Meretz chair, Tamar Zandberg’s fans might see her as an Israeli Professor Sprout, referring to Hogworth’s long-time professor of herbology. But others more familiar with the internal Meretz machinations and her rise to power would counter that the sorting hat would probably have place her in Slytherin as well. (Zehava Galon, her predecessor, on the other hand, remains a classic Gryffindor prototype.)

It’s not that the Likud is comprised entirely of Slytherin-cut politicians. Yuli Edelstein, has shown great bravery from his days as a Soviet political prisoner in the Gulag to his most recent tenure as a courageous speaker of the Knesset. On the other hand, Dudi Amsalam – and David Bitan — the two Likud coalition chairs during this term and long-time Netanyahu side-kicks — are completely analogous to Slytherin subordinates: “Crabbe and Goyle”. And Miri Regev’s abusive diatribes as Minister of Culture and insistence on censoring Israeli artists, undoubtedly elicits memories of Delores Umbrage, the tyrannical bureaucrat who briefly imposed a regime on Hogwarts that stifled any creativity and independent thought.

So which JK Rowling protagonist might we compare with Benny Gantz? Those with the patience to reach the final volumes or film of the series cannot but recall the intrepid Kingsley Shacklebolt: A storied military history as an Auror, Shacklebolt was a less than natural politician who was called into national service as a consensus maker. But he had the decency and confidence to bring the conflicting wizarding communities together and appeal to the best in their collective traditions and values. When you add to that the height and charisma –the comparison becomes unavoidable.

This of course doesn’t mean that there is no room in a Gantz-led government for some of the street-smart cynicism that Slytherin inspired politicians bring with them. Indeed, Severus Snape, the shifty head of the Slytherin House, may have been the most valuable member of the Order of the Phoenix! But it would be well if the values, vision and agenda leading the country reflect the spirit of Albus Dumbledore.

Even if one is not a Harry Potter aficionado, there are many other reasons to vote “Blue and White”. Tactically – it’s a no brainer: Anyone who wishes to put an end to a decade of Netanyahu’s Slytherin political culture needs to provide Gantz and his colleagues with the numerical advantage that allows the President to turn to him to form the next coalition. But for those informed by the wizarding world, J.K. Rowling’s unshakable moral compass points to a clear choice on April 9th.

About the Author
Professor Alon Tal, is the chair of the Tel Aviv University Department of Public Policy and a veteran environmental activist.
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