‘Anyone but Bibi’ Is No Way to Run Our Country
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is arguably a victim of his own success. Having served as PM for 10-plus years, he inevitably is being perceived as long in the tooth by critics, both left- and right-wing.
On the right, there are those who fault Bibi’s lack of resolve. His tepid support of the settlements, his cowering to the Jordanians on the Temple Mount, and his willingness to keep a lid on things rather than to pursue victory in Gaza, have all been frustrating. There is a sense that it’s all about Bibi — about his maintaining his political dominance — and much less about advancing key national objectives.
The Left increasingly and hysterically indicts Bibi for pursuing extreme right-wing policies, needlessly offending the Americans, and yes, just wanting to keep himself in power.
Well, it might be belaboring the obvious, but you don’t enjoy the second longest tenure (and counting) of any Israeli PM without paying attention to keeping yourself in power. So I think a retort of “guilty as charged” to political gamesmanship is hardly a damning admission.
Ariel Sharon once famously remarked, “What you see from here you don’t see from there.” What he meant was that being prime minister constitutes a quantum leap and qualitative shift from filling any other political position in Israel. The pressures, the responsibilities, the accountability just could not be completely fathomed until one found himself in that role.
Therefore, any consideration of Bibi’s continuing tenure must be viewed not as a referendum on him, but as a comparative exercise of assessing who would lead the country in his stead.
Those who reflexively shout “anyone but Bibi” do not have Israel’s good at heart. There is an exquisite geopolitical dance that any leader must perform — one that this prime minister, overall, has performed very skillfully.
Whether it is building new relationships in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa; withstanding incredible and unrelenting pressure from both the US and the EU, while still finding important common ground for trade and military cooperation; or paying close attention to the changing winds of the Arab world, and opportunistically pursuing unprecedented opportunities there, Netanyahu has raised Israel’s geopolitical standing, and become a world statesman at the same time.
This, of course, will be met with howls of derision and dissent by those who believe he needlessly antagonized US President Obama, or that he offers lip service but no actual steps for ending hostilities with the Palestinians. But again, the question remains, who would have done it much more skillfully or successfully?
In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Martin Kramer, president of Shalem College, extols Israel (read: Bibi) for caution. He says that playing “the long game” — and keeping Israel out of messy entanglements — has been strategically sound, allowing Israel to preserve its political capital.
For those seeking “solutions,” this caution and capital-hoarding is maddening. But it seems to me that Bibi’s self-proclaimed goal as PM, to keep Israel safe, is the very antithesis of an extremist one. He has no aspirations for a greater Israel; he professes a desire to implement a two-state solution; and he refuses to pick up the gauntlet of several issues near and dear to his base.
The irony is that the Left will likely miss Bibi when he is gone. There will be something of the leftist revisionism that has lionized the much-hated Menachem Begin as a great Israeli leader.
The Left hates Bibi because it has effectively been marginalized by him. But his actual policies and achievements, or lack thereof, would probably not be wildly different under the stewardship of a responsible left-of-center government. And there is simply no one who could have taken the heat the way Bibi has.
Ultimately, the situation is reminiscent of the old Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi.”:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone.
Before being so quick to show Bibi the door, show us the new guy. Let us assess how well he or she could bear up, keeping us safe, prosperous and optimistic. How well would he or she do when he is sitting there and not here?
Until then, with all his shortcomings, Bibi deserves to continue to lead us.