My friend was about to be inaugurated as Prime Minister of Israel. For the past year I had done everything in my power to help make that happen. Of course, I had to be there.
On the other hand, this inauguration would establish a government with progressive, extreme left, post and anti-Zionists whose ideology, from my perspective, spells disaster for the only Jewish State. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest reigning and probably best Prime Minister, would step away from the helm of the country and an unspeakable Frankenstein of a government would take over.
A milestone in Israeli history. A little like a car accident that you don’t want to see but can’t not look at…
I like Naftali Bennett. He has a special magic that (unfortunately) doesn’t translate through the tv screen. He has an intense focus that soaks up everything about whatever it is that he is interested in. When that focus is turned on you, it is as if there is no one else in the universe, as if the sun rose for you and you alone. When Naftali looks at you and tells you something, you believe him.
He has a unique charm that makes you forgive him swiftly, even after doing something that made you furious.
Naftali has a quicksilver mind, a backbone of steel and an ability to approach things in ways that no one else would or could. If most people think “inside the box” and many Israelis in the Start Up Nation think “outside the box”, Naftali walks through walls. For a year I had been reminding him that he knows he can do “the impossible” because he already had – in his army service, in business and in politics.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine he would do THIS and create this impossible government.
During the campaign he promised not to. Specifically, that he would not in any constellation, for any title, make Yair Lapid Prime Minister. He promised, and I believed him.
During the negotiations to build the coalition I asked him what he would do if Netanyahu, who had not received enough mandates to create a government alone, would offer Gideon Sa’ar to be Prime Minister in rotation. Naftali answered: “Of course I would join that government, no question! It’s not about my position, it’s about doing the best for Israel.” Considering the political map, there was no justification for not creating a right-wing government – the majority of the country voted for right wing parties. The problem was that while Gideon did receive the offer I saw coming and Naftali did agree, Sa’ar refused. Sa’ar held hate and distrust of Netanyahu dearer than ideology.
Bezalel Smotrich also could have enabled a Netanyahu led government but chose being right over being smart – He refused to join a government that needed the support of the Arab party, Ra’am who are the political representation of the Muslim Brotherhood (the parent organization of Hamas).
The other Arab parties in Israel’s Knesset, the “Joint Arab List” are secular but they and Ra’am are essentially two sides of the same coin. I agree with Smotrich that it is a dangerous and bad precedent for the government of the Jewish State of Israel to have to count on the support of the Arab parties but is what was created instead a better option?
With an aching heart, I asked Naftali all the hard questions as he was considering the new coalition:
- How will you govern without a majority of mandates? How will you not end up being a fig-leaf for horrific left wing, anti-Zionist policies?
- How could you even consider empowering the left, putting back into power parties that have not been in the government for decades? How could you make Yair Lapid Prime Minister?! Particularly after promising not to?
- If you give the country back to the left who believe it was stolen from them by the right (Israel’s version of “deplorables”) you will be creating a new divide and new anger between the elites, and the disenfranchised. You say you want to heal the rift in Israeli society but what about the new rift you will be creating with this choice?
- Who are you to choose for Israel a government the people did not vote for?
“You are right. But the alternative is another round of elections which would cause more division and hate. What I see is the destruction of “Bayit Shlishi,” we will lose everything like the Nation of Israel did twice before in our history because of hatred of brother against brother. This insanity needs to end.”
I didn’t like that answer. To my mind another round of elections would have been preferable. At the same time, who am I to say that he was wrong?
One of Naftali’s key qualities is seeing things others do not, seeing things before everyone else does. Perhaps here too he was right. Perhaps this utterly unacceptable choice was the least bad choice for Israel.
Old power becomes stagnant and blind
I believe that Prime Minister of Israel is the hardest job in the world. It takes an unusual person to want to carry this burden and among the unusual, Benjamin Netanyahu is in a category of his own. Like Winston Churchill, Netanyahu has become a global icon – synonymous with the Jewish State but also a symbol of the power of capitalism, hard work and individualism to raise even the weakest to international prominence. Reason enough to cause many in Israel and abroad to both love and hate him.
In a world not fond of living Jews, a world that is racing full speed ahead to a new global, progressive, socialist ideology, a man who embodies Jewish tribalism and the potency of capitalism is very dangerous.
A large portion of the “insanity” Naftali saw was destructive fires of incitement (much of it funded or inspired by foreign powers) created to fuel the battle between ideologies – individual sovereignty and nationalism vs socialist ideology that sings the tune of “equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Just to clarify – equity is equal outcome, not equal opportunity. Diversity does not include diversity of ideas, only diversity of skin color and gender, and inclusion somehow never includes Jews.
Old power attains it’s status by being strong and good and yet, it is a law of nature that over time, it becomes blind. New power is necessary to reinvigorate a stagnant system. We all instinctively know that there is logic and value to term limits for politicians. But how do you know where to draw the line?
Israel’s Prime Minister is tasked with holding off the constant existential threat knocking at our doors. His (or her) choices have immediate and dramatic consequences. With lives at stake, it is understandable that many citizens would feel hesitant to replace the experienced with the inexperienced. Israel benefited from experienced leadership but also suffered from stagnation caused by the blindness of politicians used to being in power and forgetting that their job is to serve the people and not themselves. Israeli society is full of serious issues that were not dealt with because they were too difficult or not immediately pressing but disastrous in the long term (for example the violence in Arab-Israeli society) as well as systems the State needs to survive but have become rotten to the core (like the police force).
Perhaps, for the survival of our society, it was necessary to create turbulence in the stagnant water, to bring to light the problems that old power refused to see. Perhaps.
Trusting new power
Stepping into a role previously held by an icon is terribly difficult, even in the best of conditions. Historically, new Israeli Prime Ministers have not done a good job (including Netanyahu in his first years), simply because the job is so difficult. Naftali has had many years of experience in government but nothing is comparable to being PM and the circumstances make success near impossible.
But Naftali is not a man to be written off or dismissed.
Naftali’s key to success is also his greatest obstacle. He doesn’t play by the rules that constrict average people – which is how he accomplished the “impossible” many times in the past. His decisions gained him his new role but it also created problems that will impact Israeli society in the years to come:
- Trusting the integrity of the election process – mandates and ideology
Society is held together based on the majority of the people agreeing to adhere to the same social rules. Naftali became Prime Minister by breaking the rules of the political “game” that dictate that the government is led by the party that has the majority of mandates and that the coalition is formed by parties who hold compatible ideologies.
When any size party can take over the leadership of the nation and the coalition is not formed on the basis of ideological compatibility, the voting process becomes devoid of meaning.
We are already seeing the results of a government headed by a small party that lacks political clout. Naftali’s Yamina Party needs the agreement of the coalition in order achieve anything and there are few issues parties with apposing ideologies can agree on. Left wing agendas are being pushed to the foreground and even if actions are prevented, the simple discussion of anti-Zionist ideas are damaging – if Israeli (leftist) Ministers of Knesset revive the “Two State Solution”, why shouldn’t world leaders follow suit? If Israeli MK’s support America’s Iran Deal, why shouldn’t the Biden Administration pave the way to a nuclear Iran?
- Trusting that the Prime Minister has the best interests of the People at heart
Israel is the Jewish homeland and the PM is the manager of our home. His role has psychological weight that an average politician does not carry – like that of a father who is supposed to lead his family and keep them safe. For Israel, the “home” to run smoothly, it is imperative that the People trust that the PM and believe that he is doing his best for all of us.
People expect politicians to break promises and even outright lie – but not on ideological issues. Not when they look you in the eye and promise to never, under any circumstances do a very specific thing. Naftali Bennett made the same promise over and over, in person and on camera to the entire nation, not to put the left in power and specifically not to make Yair Lapid Prime Minister. And then he turned around and did exactly that.
When such a fundamental promise to his electorate was so blatantly broken, how can anyone, on the left or right, trust other things that are said or promised?
Trust needs to be rebuilt in order to heal these chasms, to protect Israel now and in the future. Thus far Naftali has not taken action to address these problems. I hope he will. They will not go away on their own and it is better late than never.
The Naftali I know
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. But, in the case of Naftali Bennett, not necessarily. Unusual people behave in unusual ways. Analysis of his behavior would lead most people to conclude that what they see is an obvious and horrific betrayal of trust, hunger for power at any cost and utter lack of ideology. But that’s not the Naftali I know.
I know a man who sees things differently than most people. Who analyzes swiftly and is adamant about his decisions even and perhaps especially when they spell difficulty ahead. The man I know works harder, longer hours and more intensely than everyone else around him. The man I know doesn’t care about his wealth or believe that power makes him better than others, only that power helps him achieve for others.
The Naftali I know sees and cares deeply about making sure the centuries old Jewish story last centuries into the future. The man I know sees himself as someone who can stand in the gap and shoulder an unbearable burden to make sure the chain of our People remains unbroken.
The man I know has the heart and courage of a lion. I pray he be granted the wisdom and strength to steer away from the bad and toward the good. The man I know is a task-oriented, high-speed bulldozer who often focuses so intently on the tasks at hand that he overlooks the people left in his wake. The psychological implications of neglected feelings can create resentment, mistrust and lack of cooperation that could, eventually, stop even a bulldozer. I pray he will accept the help of people close to him to smooth the path before him, to avoid difficulties that don’t need to occur.
The path ahead is difficult enough without adding extra challenges.
Am I happy that my friend became Prime Minister? Absolutely.
At the same time, I am absolutely horrified by the way it happened and the problems it is and will create in our society for the years to come (detailed above). I am angry that my friend chose to enable Yair Lapid to become Prime Minister. I am frightened by the ramifications of the agendas being promoted by his coalition partners. I am frightened for the future of Israel.
And with all that, I know that Naftali Bennett is not a man to be dismissed or written off. Even, maybe especially when things seem the most horrible.
It’s complicated. But there is always hope. And miracles.