I hope you don’t mind my using the familiar form of address, even if you are the prime minister of Israel; it is, after all, the diminutive by which many of us — private persons, journalists, bloggers — tend to refer to you. At worst, it suggests a certain condescension; at best, it betokens a spirit of affection, however grudging. I am of the latter camp.
True, we have never met, but we came close once. That was when you visited my home town Montreal on September 9, 2002, to give a talk at Concordia University on Middle East affairs. Unfortunately, you never made it to the podium. A riot erupted, fomented by the Student Union subbing, in effect, for the university’s 6000-strong Muslim student body, forcing the cancellation of the lecture. As many of us know, but too few wish to admit — especially the university syndics — this emeute was an expression of the metastasizing campus movement which seeks to demonize Israel while shutting down legitimate debate and discussion.
Still, though we have never met, I feel as if I know you well, having followed your career for many years and even suffered vicariously the checks and humiliations you have had to endure. And when you were elected prime minister a second time, in 2009, I celebrated the event as a harbinger of a better and more viable future for an embattled country that you would — surely — nobly and vigorously represent and lead.
After the disastrous stewardship of Ehud Olmert, the man who was “tired of winning” and prepared to surrender not only territory but most of his country’s negotiating assets at the bargaining table, you were the proverbial breath of fresh — or at least, not so stale — air. Your supporters sensed that you had matured after your less-than-successful 1996-99 administration. We assumed that you would immediately set about rewriting the script that Olmert had followed and which had dragged Israel into a condition of diplomatic and military peril. The passionate speech you delivered to the UN General Assembly on September 24, 2009, was precisely the sign of moral clarity, intellectual gravity, and national honor we were waiting for.
And yet, as time went on, we had to admit to a growing presentiment of disappointment and even alarm. Did you really learn from your mistake in signing the Wye and Hebron agreements, as we had hoped? Was political scientist Yaron Ezrahi right when he said that you would have little compunction “in sacrificing an ideological position as long as it keeps [you] in power”? Writing in Haaretz, Karni Eldad, daughter of Knesset member Aryeh Eldad of the National Union Party, articulates an intuition that has come, regrettably, to be shared by many: “The prime minister prefers to be remembered as a politician who managed to navigate between the raindrops than someone who stood for his beliefs.” It is no accident that your approval rating now festers at 32%, even lower than President Obama’s in the U.S., which is saying a lot.
And, of course, Obama is your major nemesis. It is your failure to resist one of the most anti-Israeli presidents in living memory, including Jimmy Carter, that has called your credentials into serious doubt. Yes, we are all aware that the American connection is as necessary to Israel’s welfare as it is complex, problematic, and, on occasion, even treacherous. We are all aware that you need the American veto in the Security Council — growing ever shakier in any case — and must tread carefully. Nevertheless, your maneuvering to guarantee American support regardless of the debilitating concessions required of you speaks not to your political intelligence and moral stamina but to a certain — what shall we call it? — vertebral insecurity. I am sorry to say this, but your behavior in office leaves me no choice.
It was clear to any reasonable observer that the ten-month building freeze you agreed to would lead absolutely nowhere, except to rising tensions and resentments among your own people and to the predictable demand for its extension. You should have known that you cannot ingratiate yourself with Obama. It was equally plain that the Palestinians would boycott the negotiation process that the moratorium was intended to kick-start. And it was no less obvious that its inevitable failure would be blamed on Israeli bad faith rather than Palestinian intransigence. All you managed to achieve was a lose-lose situation.
Your subsequent acting as Obama’s vassal at the infamous White House reception on March 23, 2010, when you were treated no better than a paid servant, reflected no credit on you. Instead of getting up and walking out despite the constraints and minutiae of diplomatic protocol, already grossly violated by the president who left you stewing with a diktat while he went to supper with his family, you hung upon the master’s whim and behest. This stripped you of both dignity and authority. What were you afraid of? You had (and have) the support of the vast majority of the American people. You had (and have) the Republican Party and the Congress behind you. You are dealing with a president who, having polarized the nation, steered it toward bankruptcy, and become a laughing stock on the geopolitical stage, is in considerable trouble with his electorate. And all this apart from the palpable fact that every concession you make deprives you of another fragment of residual authority and renders you progressively less effective and respected.
There comes a time when there is no substitute for moral principle as opposed to political contrivance, the calisthenics of strategy, and diplomatic finesse. There comes a time when you must stand up for what you believe — if indeed you do believe — and be willing to risk the consequences, as did your brother Yonatan at Entebbe, in the conviction that strength, dignity, and adherence to the rightness of your cause will eventually carry the day. This is how a true leader conducts himself, despite the incessant squabbling of the petty politicians and cabineteers who surround him, the detractors ranged against him in the left-wing press, the sell-outs and the vainglorious, the soi-disant “peace” organizations and the opposition parties, and the intricacies of statecraft and perceived political expedience. Moreover, a true leader does not allow himself to be insulted, as did Shimon Peres who meekly accepted Turkish PM Erdogan’s slanderous broadside at Davos. There comes a time when dependence and propitiation have outlived their usefulness.
Your road is clear. You must confront the so-called “international community” with pride, moxie, and ministerial resolution. The string Quartet that is playing can scarcely hold a coherent tune, for all its posturing. Besides, the autocratic mentality it exhibits, presuming to interfere in your own affairs and impose its writ upon the nation it aims to despoil, should be robustly parried at every turn. There is no reason to pussyfoot and make nice, especially considering the endemic corruption of the Arab-dominated UN, the dismal colonial past of Europe, and the totalitarian history of Russia. Who are they to speak? This should be made evident in your public statements.
At home, you must not hesitate to insist upon transparency in the funding of left-wing NGOs by foreign governments, a form of internal meddling that would not be tolerated in any other country. The pseudo-democratic clamor of “liberal” Jewish organizations scrambling not to be unmasked need not disturb you unduly. It is they who have their backs to the wall, not you. While you’re at it, you should not recoil from investigating and acting against a potentially treasonable professoriate abusing tenure and paycheck at many of Israel’s universities by agitating against the interests of the state and indoctrinating the minds of their students, who are Israel’s future. Further, a building moratorium, whether official or de facto, foisted upon Israeli communities must be regarded as a non-starter. As for the bruited withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the ceding of the Golan Heights to Syria, this would be the death of Israel — you cannot even contemplate the possibility of assenting to a map of the indefensible.
I cannot pretend to know your secret councils or to render a definitive analysis of your character and intent. This is beyond my competence and prerogative. Others seem more confident. Your opponents have assailed you for many different and contradictory reasons — either you are too “hard right” or too malleable toward the left or too unconvincingly centrist. It seems there are many Netanyahus, none of them coinciding with any other — a fluctuating image that you have lent yourself to and are therefore partly responsible for. Even those kindly disposed to you find themselves wondering. The problem is, this is no time to present an image of omniform vagrancy or amorphousness, like Hamlet’s cloud which is a camel one moment, then a weasel, next “very like a whale.” The boundaries of your public personality cannot afford to waver or to be variously interpretable, no more than Israel’s borders can be left to the world’s discretion.
One thing, however, is undeniable. A giant rears up before you as it has before every Israeli prime minister. It is the “champion” of a multitudinous cohort who wishes you and your people harm and will not be pacified by words, tactics, conciliations, or arguments made from a position of weakness. It has many identities, both domestic and foreign, but it is always the collective Philistine who has your destruction at heart. Nonetheless, you have technological savvy, a brave people (not counting the lefties and the profs), a just cause, and a powerful deterrent working for you, more than sufficient to make an enemy think twice before imperiously and unilaterally pushing an agenda for your disempowerment or striking militarily — if, that is, you would stand your ground and let it be known that, unlike the last two inconclusive operations in Lebanon and Gaza, the aggressor would be decisively crushed. It is they and not you who should fear being “erased from the map.”
Perhaps you feel the advantages you possess are not really advantages but an insignificant arsenal, a few loose pebbles, compared to the array of ideological and martial threats aimed at the Yishuv. On the contrary, you are far stronger than you suspect. You made an impressive start at the UN; you cannot renege now on the commitment and fortitude you displayed then. How much more abasement must you absorb at the hands of the “international community” before girding your loins? How many more stabbings, lynchings, shootings, bombings, Kassams, Katyushas and Grads, how many more terrorized Sderots, how many more Itamars do you need, as families and even children are slaughtered in their beds, before you say enough is enough?
Israel now finds itself “pitched by the valley of Elah,” to cite I Samuel 17:2, a passage you know perhaps better than most. It follows that you must meet the giant with courage and assurance, for a well-aimed slingshot can be a mighty weapon. Otherwise, in the eyes of even your most loyal advocates and well-wishers, and in a way you will not have anticipated, you may have earned your diminutive.