This is part one of a two-part series, with the second one being entitled On Leaders and War: Ideological Transformation in the West After Ukraine
Perhaps we have all been so focused on Covid 19 and then on the Russian war against Ukraine, that we have given insufficient attention to other important geopolitical events affecting America and Israel. Surely, the Western world is in a crisis and in times of crisis, good leadership is more important than ever.
One aspect of the crisis is inattention to critical matters. As Covid wanes, hopefully, there is the possibility that on an individual level we shall get preoccupied with all the activities we have missed during the lockdowns - attending movies and concerts, synagogue and public lectures, sporting events, and education. In the case of Israel, we see that Israel is facing some potentially catastrophic challenges that require supporters of Israel to speak out as never before in support of the Jewish State.
The seven most important problems facing Israel:
1. The Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the JCPOA-2, in which the major world powers believe it is appropriate that the world’s worst rogue state - that pledges destruction of Israel (and America) - should be awarded sanctions relief and enough money that it can finance more terrorism, even a war, against Israel. And how sad that the world powers think that it is not an issue of whether Iran gets nuclear weapons but when. It is sad that what appears to be delaying the deal is not the needed moral vision of America, but a Russian demand that its trade with Iran be exempted from sanctions.
2.The United Nations which seems to consider its main duty as criticizing every action by Israel to protect its rights under international law dating back to the San Remo declaration, has now gone even further than usual - its creation of an open-ended and permanent international investigation into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, after Israel’s 11-day self-defense to Hamas firing missiles. The fraudulently named UN Human Rights Council voted to create the “Commission of Inquiry”investigation after the UN rights chief said Israeli forces may have committed war crimes. The resolution called for the creation of a permanent “Commission of Inquiry” to monitor and report on rights violations in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the 'West Bank'. It would be the first such commission of inquiry with an “ongoing” mandate.
Israel’s representative at the meeting said the commission was “yet another example of a grossly discriminatory and fraudulent body that this distinguished forum should be working to abolish.”
I agree with calling the commission “fraudulent” but not with terming the Human Rights Council a “distinguished forum”. The Israeli representative said experts involved in the commission had made statements revealing a bias against Israel, and that the commission “pre-assumes Israeli violations of international law rather than presuming innocence as is required.” Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan said in a statement: “The UN fell to a new low and approved a budget for a despicable and biased commission that has no right to exist.” He said the commission of inquiry ignores Hamas war crimes, including the 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilians.
Besides the Israel-Hamas conflict, the commission is also to investigate “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability, and protraction of conflict” including discrimination and repression.
The commission will no doubt ignore that the 11-day war last May, began with Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem, followed by towns in south of Israel and the Tel Aviv area. Israeli airstrikes in response against targets in the Strip killed some 250 people, including minors, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. Twelve people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. Israel has said the majority of those killed were terror operatives and insists it did everything to avoid civilian casualties while fighting armed groups deliberately embedded in populated areas.
3.The increasing anti-Israelism of the Biden administration, and its new ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides. In fact, I believe that Nides’ opinions are so anti-Israel that his appointment should be viewed as a hostile act. Nides, a banker and former deputy Secretary of State under Obama, is Jewish but neither his wife nor children are. His wife will not join him in Israel as she is a Vice-President of CNN, hardly a pro-Israel media.
His anti-Israelism is most apparent when he is in the presence of others who he perceives correctly to be anti-Israel. Daniel Greenfied, writing in INN and also JNS, notes that Nides was featured in a webinar with the anti-Israel group, Americans for Peace Now, whose CEO has described Israel as an “oppressive regime”.
Greenfield asserts that Nides’s main qualification for the job had been yelling “You don’t want to f***ing defund UNESCO” at a former Israeli ambassador. He had also vocally opposed efforts to defund UNRWA and stop subsidizing the terror refugee industry. Early on, Nides announced that he wanted to open an occupation (!) consulate to the terrorists in Jerusalem, over the opposition of the Israeli government, and that he would not visit those parts of Israel wrongly described as “settlements” - because they’re claimed by Islamic terrorists. Many American Jews who made aliyah live in Judea and Samari and you can imagine how they and their families who may still reside in America feel about the ambassador shunning them.
At the infamous APN webinar, Nides felt he was with the like-minded. APN opposes Jews living in Jerusalem, opposes anti-BDS legislation and opposes Jews defending themselves against Islamic terrorism. And so, Nides’ true feelings were expressed this way: “You have a clear agenda. I think your agenda is where my heart is,” Nides told APN.
Nides also told the webinar that he and Biden wanted to divide Jerusalem and that “my job is to knock down things that make that possibility impossible.” He also admitted that “the idea of settlement growth … infuriates me”. Nides wants to reverse Israel’s success in the 1967 war - he says that his priority is fighting to prevent Jews from living in those parts of Jerusalem that had been captured by invading Muslim armies in 1948 and liberated from their occupiers in 1967 during the Six-Day War.
“We can’t have the Israelis doing settlement growth, both in East Jerusalem or the West Bank.”
Finally, we note that rather than vocally condemning the PLO for subsidizing the murder of Americans and Jews, as they pay pensions to family members of dead terrorists, Nides only appeare to be concerned that the terror payments were an “excuse” for Jewish “haters” to cut off funding to the terrorists.
Nides’ positions encourage more Israel hatred among American Jews and non-Jews.
4.The virtue signaling of admitting immigrants to Israel, who are Ukrainian non-Jews who practice Christianity (to a greater extent than most Christian countries) thus jeopardizing the role of Israel as a Jewish state.
5.The continuation in the world’s universities of hate speech and fraudulent antisemitic nonsense such as the so-called Israel Apartheid Week.
6.The practice by Biden of overturning almost everything good, domestically or in foreign policy, done by President Trump. If that practice extends to Trump’s Abraham Accords, this might destroy the best plan for Middle East peace in history. The adoption of the Oslo Accord, after the Six Day War, set Israel on a path that resulted in terrorism and naivete that a terrorist organization seeking ejection of Jews from all of our historic homeland could be a partner in a so-called “two-state” solution.
7. Perhaps most serious of all the problems facing Israel is the fading loyalty of its Arab Muslim citizens to the sovereignty and peacefulness of the nation of Israel. Israel is now facing a growing sector of people who not only do not contribute to the defense of Israel but are involved in terrorism and other violence in the “mixed” cities like Lod, Ramle,Jaffa, and Nazareth.
In recent days, at the end of March and the beginning of April, terrorist murders of Jewish Israelis occured in Hadera, Gush Etzion, and Bnai Brak. But the turning point happened some ten months’ earlier, during Operation Guardian of the Walls.:
On May 10, 2021, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), two Gaza-based Palestinian U.S.-designated terrorist organizations, with the excuse that they were “defending Al-Aqsa," and citing a dispute over some disputed ownership of homes in East Jerusalem (where the courts ruled in favor of Jewish ownership, began launching rockets and missiles into Israel. For eleven days, over 4,300 rockets and missiles were fired from Gaza towards Israeli civilian centers, throughout the south and central parts of the country, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Millions of Israelis were forced to take cover in bomb shelters. This was especially true in the south, including in cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beer Sheva, which were severely impacted by the rocket attacks.
In response, the Israeli military launched what it called “Operation Guardian of the Walls” targeting Hamas and PIJ sites and operatives throughout Gaza via airstrikes and artillery fire.
The shocking development was that during this war against Israel by Hamas, there was an alarming outbreak of Arab violence in a number of Israeli cities which have significant populations of both Jewish and Arab citizens. Arabs engaged in arson, looting and rioting. Jewish and Arab-owned businesses and vehicles were targeted and damaged. Synagogues came under attack and were burned and vandalized as well. There were also a number of incidents in which individuals were targeted.
These seven most important problems require great leadership and great policies to meet and overcome them. How are both America and Israel and their leaders poised to meet them?
The one overriding concern that I have in the face of such issues is that Israel and America are currently led by individuals who have so little support, in recent polls, that they may now realize that they have little chance of maintaining their governance in future elections. Thus, they may not govern with the usual moderation that is shown by leaders trying to maintain popular support from a large moderate majority; in fact, if such leaders face almost certain defeat in the next election, they may embrace policies espoused by the most radical of their electoral base.
Some six months since the formation of an eight-party ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and containing everything from Leftists to an Arab party, a poll published by Channel 12 news in December showed that the current government is largely unpopular.
But the survey also showed that new elections would do little except continue the parliamentary deadlock that plagued Israel for some two years and four elections.
The poll showed that nearly twice as many Israelis prefer opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister to Bennett or Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
When asked what government they preferred, 43% said they preferred the previous government led by Netanyahu, while 36% preferred the current government led by Bennett and Lapid. Others had no clear answer.
But Netanyahu still lacked a viable path to forming a government if elections were held today, with only 57 seats to his bloc of right-wing and religious parties. Meanwhile the current coalition would lose four seats, sitting at 57 as well.
The Joint List, a smaller coalition of four predominantly Arab parties, would hold the other six.
A poll in February by Direct Polls showed that if elections were held then, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Yamina party would barely be able to cross the electoral threshold.
The 2021 Israeli legislative election saw Bennett's Yamina party secure six seats. He partnered with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who won 17 seats, to oust them-PM Benjamin Netanyahu. While Likud had won 30 mandates in the election – and was the winning party in the three election campaigns that preceded it – Netanyahu was unable to form a government.
Bennett then managed to forge a power-sharing deal with Lapid that granted him the premiership. As part of the deal, Lapid is slated to become prime minister in August 2023.
The move sparked outrage among right-wing voters, pundits, and politicians, who continuously accuse Bennett of defrauding the public. It is indeed outrageous that Bennett’s government relies for power on the support of Arab Islamists.
Were elections held at this time, the poll found that the Likud would win 36 seats, followed by Yesh Atid (17), Blue and White (9), Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas (9), the Religious Zionist Party (8), Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism (7), Labor (7), Joint Arab List (7), Yisrael Beytenu (6), Meretz (5), the Islamist Ra'am party (5), and Yamina (4).
But with this week’s resignation by coalition whip and Yamina MK Idit Silman, all may change. Without brilliant leadership by Bennett, the coalition that many feared would not last and would lead to yet further elections, looks indeed to be falling apart.
The coalition, based as it is, and led by a party that actually received so few votes, is now facing a crisis. On Monday, Yamina MK and coalition whip Idit Silman decried Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz from Meretz for sending a letter to the heads of hospitals instructing them to abide by a 2020 High Court of Justice decision and let guests bring bread and other leavened products (chametz) into the hospitals during the upcoming Passover holiday.
Silman stated that this was a cardinal issue for her and threatened that it was something she could not tolerate. Accordingly she has quite the coalition and rejoined Lihud.
But the chametz issue may only be the proximate cause of a split that may always have been inevitable for a politician with a religious base, but trying to govern with radical leftists, secularists and Arabs. Bennett has been turning his attention to the possibility of mediating between Russia and Ukraine; meanwhile, he neglected the concerns of his own party, and these concerns may eventually cause an end to his government, if more members follow Silman’s lead.
Thus, one can say that Bennett’s leadership is perhaps too weak to hold together the disparate forces in his coalition.
Turning to the United States, we see a dangerous failure of leadership by President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris. A sampling of recent polls show Biden with an approval rating between 39% and 45% and a disapproval rate of between 50% and 55%.
Biden has been seen to fumble policies on the economy, inflation, the southern border, crime and drugs, energy independence, China, Ukraine, and corrupt practices with his son Hunter. He often misspeaks and appears to be suffering from age-related mental confusion. His hurried pull out from Afghanistan, abandoning to the Taliban the Bagram Airfields, numerous Afghan interpreters and other American allies and billions of dollars of the most modern military equipment and vehicles, has done incalculable damage to America’s leadership position in the world. What leadership can he offer?
Howard Rotberg, a retired lawyer, is the author of four books on ideologies and values, the most recent being, The Ideological Path to Submission… and what we can do about it.