Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Great Blue and White Hope

Benny Gantz - the Great Blue and White Hope?
Yes, I am still a Netanyahu fan. Although I do have some reservations about some of the things he has said and done, I believe he has helped his country a lot  more than he has hurt it.

One may ask, what about the Israel’s Attorney General announcing that he will seek indictments against him? Well, yes that is one of my reservations about him. On the surface the allegations sound pretty serious: Breach of trust, fraud, and bribery. Would anyone with any sense of ethics vote for him? 

The answer is apparently yes. It appears that enough will in the next Israeli election to keep him in office.

Let us examine the exact nature of the crimes. But instead of using my own admittedly biased words, let me quote the words of perhaps the biggest Netanyahu basher in all of Jewish media, Chicago Jewish News editor and publisher, (and hard core liberal) Joe Aaron. Hardly a week goes by where he doesn’t have something truly nasty to say about him.  However in his weekly column of just a couple of weeks ago he said the following: 
While I bow to no one in my absolute contempt for how he has behaved as Israel’s leader… I think the investigations into him have been run by the Israeli version of the Three Stooges…
Consider the charges against Bibi. That he took gifts of expensive cigars and champagne from machers he did favors for. And that he tried to get media big wigs to give him favorable coverage. I mean it’s not so simple, but that’s the essence of it. A politician wanting to get good press and those who he does favors for giving him some nice presents. Stop the presses. 
This doesn’t make what Netanyahu did legal or ethical. But relative to what other leaders have done (e.g. Former Israeli Presidents Moshe Katzav who was convicted of rape; Ezer Weizmann who was convicted of taking serious money in bribes, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger – same thing) he’s a choir boy.

As Aaron notes, there is a joke going around in Israel:
(W)hen you ask an Israeli politician for his cell number, he isn’t sure what you mean.
Netanyahu will surely have his day in court. But cigars and champagne? This will not bring him down.The Israeli voter sees this. Which is why he is likely to be re-elected despite his legal troubles. 

His biggest challenger is former IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz. He has joined with Yair Lapid to form a new party: Blue and White. Initial polls showed them beating Netanyahu’s Likud. But Gantz has lost ground to him recently. According to an analysis by Ha’aretz, the wheels are coming off of his election campaign: 
The gap between Likud and Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) has closed and Netanyahu’s governing coalition of right-wing and religious parties once again has a majority that would deliver him victory. 
For a more detailed analysis, read the editorial. The point is that Netanyahu retaining power is as likely as ever.

But why indeed is Netanyahu so popular? Why does he keep getting reelected? Why are the pending indictments not doing more harm to his chances? I think part of the answer can be found in his many accomplishments during his long tenure in office. Such as forging new relationships with countries that Israel did not have in the past. Including (and perhaps especially) some of the Arab states. 

Say what you will about Saudi Arabia, but forging a positive relationship with a country that in the past was one Israel’s most virulent critics is no small thing. True, it is the shared common enemy of Iran that made this possible. But Netanyahu must be given credit for recognizing the opportunity and seizing it. Another major Arab country is Egypt. Under Netanyahu, Israel’s relationship with them has never been better.

That said, I don’t think that is the main reason Netanyahu is so popular with voters. I think it his determination to provide Israeli citizens with security. But don’t take it from me. Take it from Rabbi Elchanan Poupko. In an Arutz Sheva article he describes what happened to him when he was a student in pre-Netanyahu Israel back in 2001: 
Living in Jerusalem in those years was not too different than living in Sarajevo or Baghdad. Sure, if you stayed home or in your neighborhood life can be pretty safe. Taking a bus or going to the center of town? That was playing Russian roulette.
Now, living in New York, I still go back to visit Jerusalem. My eyes fill up with tears seeing children playing safely on the streets. My heart is warmed seeing the myriad of visitors from around the world enjoying the unparalleled exotic beauty of Jerusalem. I am happy for them, and wish it could have always been this way, but it wasn’t. Yes, there is still terror, children must be given careful instructions, but the streets are safe. 
In Israel, when people vote, the years of war and terror leave their mark. Proud of Netanyahu or not, he lived up to the primary duty of a leader—he kept his people safe. Despite allegations of possible bribes—taking cigars and champagne when he should not have— he was voted in in the past, and will likely be voted in again in the future. 
Israel is a country of law and will decide on the legal aspects of the allegations. However, as Netanyahu is deemed responsible for the happy childhood of all those children in Israel today—a childhood I did not have— it is easy to understand why he is supported by so many of my peers and friends. Those who grew up knowing terror see Netanyahu as savior, and perhaps rightfully so.
 Elections for the twenty-first Knesset will be held on Tuesday, April 9th