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Direction Unknown

Twenty years ago, Yoram Hazony published The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul.

The volume, which I have read several times, sits on my bookshelf next to Martin Gilbert’s Israel, another favourite of mine.

I mention these two contemporary works, as I struggle to understand where Israel is currently headed. Often, to me at least, Israel appears rudderless with a captain engrossed with other matters rather than ensuring that Israel stays on a straight, firm course. And yet, somehow, through some miracle, Israel keeps plowing head. Why the contradictions?

Haaretz columnist, Yossi Verter, in a recent Analysis piece, places the blame firmly and squarely on the shoulders of Benjamin Netanyahu, in pure simple terms, it's hard not to disagree.

‘’Anarchy Prevails in Israel, and It Starts With Netanyahu’’ ‘’Without any personal example, proper management or reasonable enforcement, Netanyahu proves that he is to blame – rather than protesters he likes to cast as 'anarchists'’’

Let’s add to the mix Miri Regev’s rant of Friday night on Channel 12.

‘’Regev to ex-soccer star: Apologize to Likud or you’ll never be national coach’’ ‘’Transportation minister threatens TV host Eyal Berkovic for referring to her party as a ‘criminal organization’’’

As a side issue, does Regev, who is the transport minister, no longer sports/cultural minster – maybe she forgot – have the power, the influence to ensure that Eyal Berkovic is not appointed as Israel's national football coach in December? Smacks of intimidation.

Berkovic warrants praise for speaking on behalf of many Israeli’s, maybe even a majority of citizens who view certain elements of the Likud as a ‘’ members of a criminal organization’’.

Berkovic, to his credit, did clarify his remarks when he said that he was referring to “Bibi, and around five of his foot soldiers”, of which Regev is one. We can add to the mix, Miki Zohar, Amir Ohana, David Amsalem, Yariv Levin. I suspect that Berkovic was being liberal with his counting. A careful study of the current Likud MKs will show that Bibi’s ‘’gang of five’’ is closer to ten-strong.

Interesting today to note the reaction of the Blue and White faction to Miki Zohar’s latest rant “Miki, even in Likud you are not taken seriously. Keep blabbering on because this is the only thing you know how to do, and not very successfully either.”

“Coalition row deepens as Netanyahu ally calls Blue and White ‘danger to nation’’’ ‘’Gantz’s party dismisses Miki Zohar’s ‘blabbering’; Lapid says Monday’s no-confidence vote to replace coalition is a ‘simple decision’; Derech Eretz MK seemingly nixes possibility’’

At the other end of the spectrum, we have an Opinion piece by Doron Nehemia, who puts forward the argument that Israel is not becoming a dictatorship.

‘’No, Israel is not becoming a dictatorship’’ ‘’Netanyahu is much weaker than he was a year ago and any claims of us falling into the grip of an authoritarian leader are made by fools or political opportunists; nothing in the country does or ever did remotely resemble a dictatorship’’

I read the article several times, only then did I look at the author's byline published at the end of the text: ‘’Attorney Doron Nehemia is one of the founders of Nativ BaLikud, an organization seeking to promote a 'national and liberal agenda' within the Likud party’’

(Nativ BaLikud - - could perhaps be described as ‘the young Likud movement’.)

A couple of the writer’s remarks brought a smile to my face, for example: “Comparisons between Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdogan do not say much about the prime minister, but do say a lot about the ignorance of those who use such analogies.”

I have many times over the past year or so written that Netanyahu would like to mirror both Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Am I ignorant or simply echoing what I see, read, hear on TV/Internet?

In conclusion, Doron Nehemia writes, ‘’The claims of dictatorship are made by fools and political opportunists, not those who wish to have a true, relevant discussion about the current state of affairs.’’

OK, I am a fool, I have been called a lot worse. But seriously, when you look around and see the way that Netanyahu acts, his often knee-jerk reactions to situations, the rants, and rhetoric that spew forth from his elder son and wife, and the perceived contempt that Sara Netanyahu appears to hold for the people of Israel, it is hard not to think in negative terms.

Yes, neither Yair nor Sara Netanyahu is the government of Israel, but through their actions and words, they repeatedly undermine the Prime Minister.

Nativ BaLikud is seeking to promote a 'national and liberal agenda' within the Likud party. I read their platform, which was thank goodness in English. WOW, I want to be part of this movement. Their manifesto ticks, for me at least, almost all the right boxes. OK, so Doron Nehemia and his colleagues are at least half my age, that does not mean that I should not care about what comes next for Israel.

Then I read more. Doron Nehemia and his colleagues are fully paid-up members of the Likud and, understandably, are encouraging people to join. They claim that there are 100,000 paid-up members of the Likud, but only half participate in the vote to select candidates for election. Maybe it’s not that significant, maybe Nativ BaLikud figures are out of date but in her rant, Miri Regev tossed the figure of 150,000 Likud members. Food for thought.

And thinking is what I have been doing for most of the day.

I understand Nativ BaLikud's drive to influence, to drive change from within the party. It strikes as the right way to go. But wait a minute, it’s the same Likud that has a prime minister facing criminal charges. It’s the same Likud that includes Bibi’s gang of five or gang of ten. Is this the party I want to join?

Groucho Marx famously said, “he would never join a club that would have him as a member”. Worth thinking about it!

On the other hand, the Likud is also currently home to Gideon Saar, Nir Barket, Israel Katz, and Yuli Edelstein. While the latter two are heard in their ministerial roles, for the most part, Saar and Barket are silent. Why?

It’s a given that Netanyahu will not be around forever, and with him will go his ‘gang’. Meanwhile, Nativ BaLikud looks to move forward their national and liberal agenda. Question is, how long will this take? Will I still be around when these changes hopefully take place? Will I, by then, even care?

A few days ago, the press was full of stories about former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai linking-up to form a new center party.

Firstly, with great respect for these gentlemen, why should we believe that they alone have the remedy to right Israel’s many difficulties? Is this not the same story we heard a few years ago from Yair Lapid, and more recently from Benny Gantz? They alone have the knowledge, experience, and knowhow to bring Israel to another level.

There is much to be said for Doron Nehemia and his colleagues in taking the fight to the Likud, inside the Likud. There is a lesson here to others who long for a positive change in Israel.

Doron Nehemia is however glazing over some of the facts. Maybe Israel is not a dictatorship in the sense of Russia, Turkey or North Korea, and various other countries. Israel does however suffer from a prime minister who has lost the plot. Not only concerning COVID19, which is a national disaster but in so many other areas as well. He may well deny it, but the recent agreements with the UAE and Bahrain were more to ensure Trump’s 2nd term and Noble Peace Prizes for Trump and Netanyahu. Yes, no doubt, the normalization agreements are most welcome – please, let us stop calling them peace agreements – as far as I am aware, there has never existed a state of war between Israel and the UAE nor Israel and Bahrain. Hence, they are normalization agreements.

A week or two ago, Benny Gantz told the people of Israel that we were at war with COVID19, as if the majority of us, did not already know. And while Gantz maybe ministry of defense and alternate prime minister, it would have been more in keeping with the on-going coronavirus battle for the prime minister to speak to the nation regularly, much as Churchill did during the war years.

So the questions need to be addressed, in which direction is Israel going to go once COVID19 is defeated or at least tamed? And, as it at least looks right now, Trump is not given a 2nd term, what are the government's plans? Israel Katz, as minister of finance, has secured vast amounts of credit both to pay the various stimulate packages and to ensure Israel continues to function until there is an upswing in the economy, how is Israel going to repay these loans, is there a plan in place? And what the Palestinians, like it or not the problem needs to be faced and resolved. It’s not something to be swept under the carpet.

Within the four questions above, there are numerous sub-questions, all clamouring for responses.

As a side note regarding Trump. Four years ago he mocked that he could walk down Fifth Avenue in New York, shoot someone, and still get elected. Four years, with 205,000 dead and counting from COVID19, is the answer still the same?

And here is another, in 12 months, Gantz is slated to take over the premiership. Even he, in his heart, knows it is not going to happen, So where does that leave Israel?

In which direction is Israel headed? Is it even the right direction? It looks likely that sometime in the coming three to six months, the citizens of Israel will, yet again, be trekking their way to the polling stations. Trump joked after the second election and following the announcement of a third that ‘’Israel keeps having an election, but no one is ever elected”. His mock was not far off the truth, unfortunately.

Think about this for a moment, Israel is about the size of the US state, New Jersey, and has a population of around 9.3m. New Jersey’s population hovers around 8.75m. Not that much of a difference. And while it’s not exactly comparing apples to apples, think about the position Israel holds on the world stage compared to New Jersey, somewhat disproportionate.

Is Israel’s problem, Benjamin Netanyahu? Are the outrages that his father suffered at the hands of the Israel establishment, manifested in Benjamin Netanyahu? Could it have all so different had his brother Yoni not died at Entebbe? Does anyone have the answers?

In her January 31, 2013, Column One, Caroline Glick asked ‘’Where is Israel headed?’’ ‘’We will learn a great deal about Netanyahu’s plans to contend with Iran’s nuclear project, the hostile Obama administration, and the rise of genocidal anti-Semitic regimes in neighboring countries through his choice of defense minister.’’

The Obama presidency and come and gone, Iran’s nuclear capability appears to have grown rather than diminish.

What's changed in the past seven years? OK, we have normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain. The Leviathan natural gas field is in production.

Read, as I did, the complete article and compare then to now. Regretfully, there are few positives to take away. While not in a time capsule, seven years on, we have not moved that much further forward.

What will the next seven years bring?


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