The main lesson to be learned from the events of the past two weeks – the heinous acts of terrorism, the political and popular reactions in Israel, the West Bank and the Kingdom of Jordan, and the ill-considered initial reactions of the Israeli authorities – is that what Israel needs more than anything else these days is levelheadedness and good judgment.
Unfortunately, that is not what we have been getting from our current government, in which the extreme, right-wing, jingoistic voices are predominant – not necessarily because they constitute a majority, but because the more moderate and levelheaded ones seem to have gone mute.
The position of our prime minister in this mess is especially precarious – to a large extent due to his own doing. Needless to say the multiplicity of suspicions that have been raised against him, at least some of which will most probably result in legal charges of one sort or another, certainly do not help.
In addition, if Netanyahu really believes in even part of what he told the prime ministers of the Visegrad group two weeks ago (see my article of last week), he is living in a illusory world with regard to Israel’s place in the international arena, and the advisability of its relying on ultra-conservative, extreme right-wing regimes of one sort or another to advance Israel’s interests and protect it from harm, rather than on the liberal democracies that are critical of its policies regarding the occupied territories, but are committed – not least of all for historical reasons – to the continued existence of the Jewish state.
To Netanyahu’s credit one must say that in the last resort he recoils from uncalculated risks, and that when he realizes he has miscalculated, or that the cost of sticking to an ill-conceived policy is much too risky, he is not ashamed to retract, as he has done many times in the past (in the cases of Khaled Mashaal and Ahmed Yassin, for example). his is what happened last week with regard to the removal of the magnetometers and other security equipment from the Temple Mount two days after they were installed there, which was rightly viewed by the Palestinians as a major victory over Israel.
All this could have been prevented if Netanyahu had avoided acting from his gut, against the advice of the IDF and all the intelligence services. As the Hebrew saying goes, “sof ma’ase be’mahshava tehila” – think before you act.
Be all that as it may, one cannot deny that Israel’s prestige was seriously damaged as a result of how things were handled, and Netanyahu himself is now not only being attacked from the Left, but also from the Right – perhaps especially from the Right – by those who believe he should have refused to remove the magnetometers from the Temple Mount, and should have reacted much more harshly to all the provocations coming from the Palestinians, with the more or less passive support of the Muslim world, irrespective of the cost.
Some of the statements coming from backbench right-wing MKs have been outright outrageous (for example, MK Miki Zohar stated that Palestinian terrorists should be buried wrapped in pig’s skin), as have been the expressions by more high ranking members of the Likud – including Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and coalition chairman David Bitan – against the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) for warning against unilateral changes of the status quo on the Tempe Mount.
Since the establishment of the state its leaders have usually excelled in taking the geopolitical reality into consideration, and have avoided extreme reactions that could end up with over a billion Muslims ganging up against us. While Orthodox Judaism maintains that God is with us, suggesting that we can expect miracles that defy the basic assumptions of realpolitik (though one should add that most of the ultra-Orthodox believe that Israel should avoid provoking the gentiles), our leaders have always rejected this premise as a consideration in their policy making, largely because to the present day we have not had a religious prime minister.
For those who are not religious, the mere thought of any Israeli leader relying on miracles rather than levelheaded common sense is abhorrent.
It will be interesting to see how Netanyahu reacts to his present predicament. Perhaps it is too much to hope for, but I would be delighted if he were to finally admit that even though he is a right-winger, and must feel more comfortable interacting with other right-wingers, Israel would be much better off if it were ruled by a moderate right-wing Likud cooperating with moderate center and left-of-center parties, rather than by a right-wing Likud totally stripped of its liberal elements and increasingly chauvinistic, cooperating with (and simultaneously competing with) messianic parties to its Right.
Israel would be better off internally without the constant and intentional deepening of the ruinous rifts between Right and Left, but it would also be better off internationally, in its efforts to contend with a complicated and explosive international reality. With all due respect to the extreme Right – it shouldn’t call the shots, any more than the extreme Left should, though both have the right to be heard, and should be heard.
But this is probably much too much to hope for, not least of all because the Likud seems to be beyond redemption with regard to stopping the growing chauvinism, jingoism and vulgarization within its ranks.
MK Benny Begin and former justice minister Dan Meridor – two Likud “princes” – are members of an endangered species that will probably soon be extinct. It was nevertheless a pleasure hearing the former last Wednesday in the Knesset plenum speaking of a bill he had proposed in the past that dealt with Israel’s Jewish identity. Unlike the version currently being considered, Begin’s bill included the word “equality” with regard to all of Israel’s citizens, and avoided contradicting the 1992 human rights Basic Laws. Meridor, the following day on TV Channel 20, engaged in a fascinating dialogue with former MK Ya’akov Katz from National Union defending the principles of liberal nationalist Zionism in the spirit of Ze’ev Jabotinsky (who many current Likudniks know nothing about).