In the eight and a half years since my wife, our youngest child and I moved to Israel we have experienced great ups and downs, exhilarations and frustrations. Through it all there has been one constant, one fact of life that we could rely on, and take for granted: the country was being led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
So it was, when the police recommended to the Attorney General that Bibi be indicted, that we suddenly had to face the prospect of an Israel without him at the helm. Our visceral reaction was one of fear, a concern as to who could step into his shoes.
As an American oleh, a native English speaker, with middling Hebrew at best, I readily acknowledge that I have experienced Bibi’s stewardship of our government in a manner different from most Israelis. I know him from his English pronouncements, or what I read in translation as to what he said in Hebrew. In that sense I am somewhat at a remove from the “down home” Bibi.
However, this same reality also provides me with a perspective that many Israelis lack - a better sense perhaps of Bibi as a world figure, and how he is perceived on a broader stage.
So, let me share with my fellow citizens a native New Yorker’s take on what we have recently witnessed. Much it starts with language. Bibi speaks idiomatic English, learned while a youth in the US. He is able to communicate directly with English speakers, especially Americans, in a way that they completely understand, nuances and all.
Why is this relevant? Many Israelis don’t understand how linguistically lazy Americans are. The old joke of what do you call someone who speaks only one language? - “An American” – is an old joke because it is a basic truism.
Whereas Israelis thought that Bill Clinton had basically deciphered the Dead Sea Scrolls because he said “shalom haver” at Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral, Americans expect that you will speak to them in English. If not, you are basically not speaking, and you surely are not speaking convincingly.
Bibi is that rare world leader, and perhaps that even rarer Israeli politician, who can speak directly, convincingly and compellingly to English speaking media and their publics. And because, to mangle the metaphor, English is now the lingua franca of the world, this ability has become critical.
Vladimir Putin can get his points across because he is the leader of a major world power. That is not a luxury an Israeli leader will enjoy.
Of course, it is not just the fact that Bibi speaks English fluently, but what he is saying that resonates. An example of this is how US President Trump basically took a page from Bibi’s playbook in his recent speech at Davos in which he stumped for investing in America. Bibi has been doing this remarkably effectively all over the world, in the Far East, India, Africa and Latin America.
He has become the face of Israeli innovation, and the confident portrayer of Israel as a rising economic and diplomatic power. In some respect, his ability to command the stage has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of the acceptance, however grudging, of Israel’s rightful place in the family of nations.
All of that is now under a cloud, and it is hard to see how any conceivable replacement will be able to maintain Bibi’s momentum and achievements.
Native New Yorkers, in their typically skeptical way, look at all of this and make the following observations:
There were sirens on a recent Shabbat, followed by the news that Israel has directly engaged Iran for the first time in Syria, or anywhere else. The temperature of the geo-political pot that is Syria has just increased significantly, with the prospect of war being put very much on the front burner. Two days later, the police, after a 14 month investigation, issue their recommendation.
What was the rush? Where is the perspective of the larger security situation that might wisely lead any group with the good of the country at heart, to hold off for a bit, pending more clarity.
In other words, the police were completely tone deaf, and it is a tone deafness that bespeaks an obsessive vendetta at the expense of the public welfare.
One of the major accusers of the Prime Minister is actually has biggest political rival. As they say in New York – you can’t make this stuff up. Does Yair Lapid actually think that this helps him? In New York, they would say, nobody trusts a snitch, and Lapid does not come to the table with clean hands.
The punishment doesn’t exactly fit the crime. Why would Israel toss out a leader of proven effectiveness over what must be seen, in the grand scheme of political doings, as very small beer?
After more than a dozen investigations, to hang your hat on these charges seems pretty paltry. Ultimately, this seems somewhat self-destructive, showing a desire to get the guy, irrespective of what it might mean to the country.
I understand that many Israelis suffer from Bibi fatigue, and that there are reasons why term limits exist. I also think that Bibi can be criticized for any number of sins of omission and commission, and that he is exasperating, even maddening to many Israelis, who see him as arrogant and self-obsessed.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel that we are heading down a path that we will very possibly regret. Israel’s recent successes on the diplomatic, economic and security fronts are not self- evident nor self-sustaining without the right leadership.
The urge to take the Prime Minister down carries great consequences, and it is those consequences that make me think that reliance that my wife and I have had in Bibi – and his leadership – are not misplaced.
Douglas Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund. The views expressed herein are his alone. He can be reached at email@example.com.