Charles Bybelezer: In Search of Israeli Leadership



With the election cycle in full swing, it has become apparent that Israelis are seriously limited in their choices. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has served his country admirably, he spent his latest term deflecting criticism of indecisiveness, levied against him his entire political career.


Despite repeated “hawkish” declarations on security, multiple terrorist attacks in recent months, invoking memories of the second intifada, exemplify the previous government’s inability to protect its citizenry; this, on the heels of the 50-day war against Hamas, which was an abject failure by any measure.


Most importantly, Netanyahu has failed to achieve his primary objective; namely, to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons. While he should be commended for forcing the issue onto the international community’s agenda, the Islamic Republic has nonetheless expanded its atomic program by leaps and bounds during Netanyahu’s tenure, to the point where Tehran has effectively become a nuclear threshold state. Nevertheless, Netanyahu may still win reelection, solely on the basis of being the best of a bad lot.


By comparison, a Tzipi Livni-led government would undoubtedly steer the country toward the nearest iceberg. Livni is perhaps the worst high-profile politician in Israel’s history, her resume a laundry list of colossal failures.


As foreign minister in the Olmert government, Livni spearheaded UN Resolution 1701, which left securing southern Lebanon to international peacekeepers after the 2006 war against Hezbollah. Nearly a decade later, Iran’s proxy has amassed some 100,000 rockets and is battle-tested after fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in the ongoing Syrian civil war.


Later, as leader of Kadima (the Likud offshoot responsible for pushing through the disastrous disengagement from Gaza), Livni was unable to form a government despite winning the most mandates in the 2009 election. She was thereafter totally irrelevant as head of the opposition.

Most recently, Livni failed miserably in her role as chief negotiator with the Palestinians, overseeing a futile nine-month process that, like all “peace” talks before them, culminated with a surge in Palestinian terrorism.


Then there are the middle-of-the-pack candidates: Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon with his newly-formed Kulanu party. The reality is that time is not on Liberman’s side and, despite attempts to rebrand himself as a moderate, it appears as though diminishing popular support will preclude him from becoming prime minister. For his part, Lapid is the latest Israeli political flameout after an awful run as finance minister; at least half of his mandates will likely be scooped up by Kahlon, this election’s trendy “centrist” running a campaign premised on “social justice.”


Which brings us to what were the two great hopes of the upcoming election, emanating from opposite sides of the political spectrum. But, sadly, both Labor’s Isaac Herzog and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett have recently proven they are likewise not ready to assume the mantle of leadership.


Herzog is by far the more disappointing.Steeped in Zionist tradition, he could have been the first leader of the Left in decades with mass – perhaps even crossover – appeal; but by joining forces with Livni – whose party was unlikely to pass the electoral threshold – and agreeing to a rotating premiership, Herzog effectively signaled to the nation that he is not ready for the top job.


Compared to Netanyahu’s decision to merge with Liberman prior to the last election – a move that, according to polls, virtually ensured Netanyahu would be asked to form the next government – Herzog comes off looking like a serially- dependent political neophyte.

Bennett’s case is more complex.


While he has become the face of the “far Right,” an alleged fierce opponent of territorial compromises to the Palestinians, recent statements suggest he may not be the consummate ideologue. During his appearance at the Saban Forum in December, Bennett contradicted his previous position by saying that he would not, as prime minister, annex Area C of the West Bank, suggesting that such a process could take up to four decades. In the interim, he called for enhanced cooperation with the Palestinian leadership.


The bitter truth is that Israel is suffering from the absence of leadership, which has created a sense of alienation, if not dejection and even anger, among the population. While the Jewish state has faced incredible challenges in its brief history, it has overcome them only because past leaders believed in more than simply amassing power, and acted in accordance with those convictions. They understood Israel to be a living, breathing cause, and that without proper guidance that cause would begin to erode. And this is where Israel finds itself today, its legitimacy eroded. Much of this is attributable to our enemies, but successive Israeli leaders – or lack thereof – have played their part.


The author is a correspondent for i24news, and a former CIJR Publications Manager