History repeats itself
Since Benjamin Netanyahu first took the reins of the premiership in 1996, and each of the five other times he has secured victory and a coalition in the Knesset, he has been singularly focused against those who seek to harm Israel. Most notably Iran — he worked on curtailing its nuclear ambitions. But equally worrisome and closer to home, Hizbollah amassing weapons on the northern border and Hamas gaining traction and engaging in asymmetric warfare have been the alarm siren for Bibi and his followers.
“He will keep us safe,” his loyal followers have chanted at his rallies. Sitting around their Shabbat tables, people will admit that they feel safest with his leadership. Kitschy commercials were aired about Bibi looking after the country like a babysitter — calling him the Bibisitter — so parents can live worry-free.
In his most recent quest for continuing leadership, Bibi did not make his campaign’s primary goal a promise to deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords. He did not present a plan to conclude the decades-long conflict with the Palestinian people. He didn’t place any major programs for affordable housing and lowering inflation at the top of his agenda. Rather, he has led with a judicial overhaul that will create a forcefield around him and any transgressions he might be indicted for, along with those fringe elements of his coalition.
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Since the Israeli government is parliamentary, Bibi needed a majority to form a coalition. Not unlike what Speaker Kevin McCarthy had to do in selling his soul to the extremists for votes, Bibi sought out the support of convicted felons, extreme right-wing ideologues, and those who sympathize with the likes of Jewish terrorists Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein to help him gain power. Bibi did just that. As the saying goes, he laid down with dogs — and now the country is full of fleas.
As a result of this strategy and the majority’s fixation with bulldozing forward, Bibi will ironically do what the enemies he swore to protect against could only have dreamt about. He is pulling apart the fabric of Zionism. He is whittling away the strings that tether Diaspora and Israeli relations. Bibi’s actions are calling into question whether Israel will be democratic or Jewish while forsaking the notion that it is and can continue to be both. He is thumbing his nose at Diaspora Jews and making them and Israeli Jews choose loyalties.
He is tilling the soil for a full-fledged civil war in Israel.
This is illustrated in the hypocritical stunt of sending his finance minister, the unapologetic and blustery Betzalel Smotrich, one of those very right-wing fringe characters who recently incited violence against Palestinians, to the United States to ask for $1.3B in Israel Bonds purchases from North American supporters to benefit Israel. But the funds he is soliciting come predominantly from the very Jews Smotrich continuously disavows, Reform and Conservative Jewry of the Diaspora.
Iran is laughing, Hizbollah is howling, and Hamas is befuddled. Our sworn enemies haven’t even fueled the rockets and are getting the result without placing a finger on the deadly launch button.
In Bibi’s pursuit of self-protection, the Sayeret Matkal (special elite forces) IDF soldier who was trained to fall on a grenade to save his platoon is doing the opposite. He is throwing the explosive on the population to save himself. Bibi will be nothing and his legacy meaningless if the dream and miracle of the Jewish state self-destructs.
My grandmother was one of the wisest people I ever met. She used to say, “what we do to ourselves, our worst enemies would not do to us.” How true! Jewish historians know too well about the cause of Temple’s destruction in Jerusalem. It was not because of the evil plots of our adversaries, rather because we hated each other so much and sought to protect only ourselves, our self-interests and promote our own narrative, that we lost the entire enterprise. We can feel the impact of its demise and mourn its loss, still today.
History is indeed repeating itself. What a damn shame!
David-Seth Kirshner is senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El of Closter and immediate past president of both the New York Board of Rabbis and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis.