What has gotten into Binyamin Netanyahu ?
He has traveled down a road – a ten month freeze on most construction in Jewish parts of Judea and Samaria – that even his leftist predecessors dared not do. And for what? He agreed, ostensibly, to lure the “Palestinians” back to the negotiating table, even though, to date, they have rejected his overtures, thereby making Netanyahu’s freeze lame, foolhardy and immoral. Since the objective of the freeze has already failed, then why persist? Indeed, it is better – given Israel’s record in diplomacy – that no negotiations occur, so why force the Arabs to accept the next surrender?
And he agreed, we are informed, to appease a hostile American president who demanded this unprecedented action, a blatant act of discrimination against Jews – an act that would be protested by Jews and all decent people if it occurred anywhere else in the world. Apparently unaware that he became the first world leader to cave in to any Obama request – every appeal Obama has made across the globe has been rebuffed, and usually dismissively – Netanyahu betrayed his supporters, the people who voted for him, those who assumed he had learned lessons from his failed first term, and the principles of the party that elected him its leader.
The broader question is: what happens to Likud leaders when they enter office that they begin to treat their parties’ platform and professed values as gossamer and fluff to be ignored at will and sworn allegiance to only in the months before the elections? Can’t they ever stick to their guns? (Ignore the nonsense that the view from the prime minister’s seat is different – one either has values or one does not.)
The list of Likud disappointments is long and tragic. Ehud Olmert was a political chameleon (and disaster – he still claims the failure in Lebanon was a “great and historic victory), Tzippi Livni long ago abandoned the pretense of being a Jewish nationalist – and both of those were from the royal, “fighting” families of the Irgun. Ariel Sharon was in a class by himself (literally), in his contemptuous disregard of the Likud platform on which he was elected, and the Likud referendum that voted down his proposed disengagement from Gaza. Sharon, indeed, is unique – and historic – in a perverse way, as he mocked his opponent’s own disengagement plan (Amnon Mitzna, in 2001) as heralding the imminent destruction of Israel – only to adopt it himself ten months after the election.
Even Menachem Begin parted with the sparsely-populated Sinai, but at least his premise was securing the possession by Israel of Judea, Samaria and Gaza in perpetuity. Only Yitzchak Shamir clung to his principles – and was rewarded by the electorate with a defeat at the polls for not providing them the elixir of fantasies and phony hopes sold to them by Yitzchak Rabin.
It is a sad legacy – to which can be added the likes of Tzachi Hanegbi, Limor Livnat and a host of others who have all proven themselves to be not leaders but shallow politicians for whom office is more important than principle. It is a depressing truth that most of the land conquered in the Six-Day that has already been surrendered to the Arabs has been surrendered not by left-wing Laborites but by supposedly right-wing Likudniks. It is as if Labor proposes – and Likud disposes. Put another way: Labor proposes – and Likud erupts in vehement protest and anger, calling the leftists weak and soft on security, and then winning election by an emboldened electorate yearning for strong, nationalist, Zionist leadership – and then Likud disposes, mimicking the Labor policy and boasting that they surrender better. Such weird statecraft is uniquely Israeli, unknown in the rest of the world. (In an American context, imagine the election of a Conservative Republican president who then became pro-abortion, anti-gun, pro-statist economy, and de-funded the military.) How does that happen?
This is a mystery, but there is a possible explanation. Years ago, I posed this very question to one of the leading Hesder Roshei Yeshiva in Israel who answered me as follows: Torah Jews and secular right-wing Jews can all love Israel, fight for Israel and even die for Israel. Both groups can demonstrate great self-sacrifice for both the land and the people – but for secular Jews, it must stop at a certain point. “If it were possible,” he said, “to achieve the same love of Israel through Torah and not-through-Torah, then why would you need the Torah?” Therefore, their dedication collapses at a certain point – each person (Netanyahu, Sharon, Livni, Olmert, etc.) at his/her own level.
Simply put, they do not have the same values, and certainly not the same source for their values, as the Torah-faithful Jew. Their values are, therefore, more fluid, subject to political pressures and enticements – and they do not have the spiritual backbone to stand up to the intimidators. (Shamir, a fascinating individual, was the exception to this rule, and his story shows the marked contrast to today’s crop of leaders. An insider reported recently that the first time James Baker demanded an immediate freeze on settlement construction, Shamir stood up to his full height (4’11” – more than a foot shorter than Baker) and berated him about Jewish rights to the land of Israel and that he never wants to hear such a request made again. In a subsequent negotiation when Baker repeated the same demand, Shamir grew red in the face, glared at Baker, sat in stony silence for three minutes – until Baker changed the topic.)
It is hard not to avoid the conclusion that secular right-wing Zionism is as bankrupt and bereft of values as secular, left-wing Zionism. That is certainly not to disparage their contributions in building the state; it is, though, an acknowledgment that those who built it – right and left – have been trying to dismantle it for well over a decade and a half – and only Torah Jews imbued with a nationalist impulse stand in their way. Hence the outrage over Rav Eliezer Melamed’s endorsement of soldiers’ refusal to obey orders to attack Jews, and the discomfort that defense officials have toward the Hesder program that many feel is neither cost effective nor trustworthy enough to create the robotic fighting machine craved by generals.
The tragic pattern is that Netanyahu will lose the confidence of the people, be voted out and replaced by the next leftist hope – only to have that PM succeeded by the next rightist hope – and failure.
Eventually, the day will come when Torah-true leadership – lovers of Zion and Israel – will emerge to the fore, the people will rally around him and grow again in self-confidence and awareness of our destiny. The question is: will that happen before Moshiach comes or only when Moshiach comes?