By Fiamma Nirenstein
Outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed Israel on the path of its long-term mission as a small but great beneficent power indispensable to the entire world.
“The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious,” eulogizes Mark Antony in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. He then goes on to sing the praises of the dead leader whose body lay on the pavement of Rome, arousing the crowd’s love.
History has spoken of Caesar, the protagonist of Roman history, as he deserved. This will also be the case in relation to outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, fortunately, is in very good health and may one day return as the country’s premier.
Today, however, the new “noble” men and women of Israel’s next government not only say that their coalition is going to save the nation from them, but that they have accomplished an essential historical achievement. They list a number of reasons for these claims—which, by the way, far outweigh the unclear strategy of their eight-party governing coalition.
For one thing, they say, no matter how valuable a leader may be in a democracy, a 12-year term in power is an anomaly that (beyond arousing envy) has led to the undermining of democracy itself. They treacherously insist that this has been Netanyahu’s intent.
For another, as they often repeat: Caesar, or rather Netanyahu, has a difficult personality. They depict him as a cutthroat, power-hungry politician who leaves no room for others. This is the main reason for the government sworn in today: its partners—from Yamina’s Naftali Bennett to Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, as well as from Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman to New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar—all say that they have signed on to this unity government because they have been treated unjustly and with arrogance by Netanyahu.
The late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also had a problematic character. This did not prevent him, however, from saving Europe from Adolf Hitler. Similar words can and were said about Caesar, as well.
Nor has Netanyahu’s family been spared the wrath of his detractors, with his wife Sara’s personality, and his son Yair’s social-media posts part and parcel of the intolerance towards him. This is despite the fact that they have never been known to influence his clear, elaborate, Zionist strategy.
And, of course, the adjective “corrupt” is hurled at him ad abundantiam, due to his trial on charges of breach of trust, bribery and fraud. This is in spite of the fact that many jurists consider the indictments to be false and spurious—particularly those involving his ostensibly having bribed a news outlet to obtain positive press coverage, which he never received, and that he received ridiculous gifts of cigars and champagne from powerful businessmen in exchange for favors.
Netanyahu however, whose leadership is now interrupted and who’s future is uncertain, is a man at the center of major turning points in Israel’s recent history, the latest of which was the country’s victory in fighting COVID-19. His determined vaccination campaign is a testimony to his leadership. His efforts to secure a vaccine deal with Pfizer early on was for him synonymous with saving Israel, which explains not only why he “obsessively” sought it out, but also did it better than any other world leader.
This is an integral part of his drive: his perception, refined over time, that Israel is a small country with strong enemies and insecure borders that must be protected. It’s the only country that holds firm to the principles of Western values, while preserving Jewish tradition and history.
It thus requires a leader with the utmost dedication and determination, who doesn’t joke around and understands that when it comes security, no compromise is possible.
The first time that Netanyahu became prime minister in 1996 after defeating Shimon Peres, his determination seemed hard and solemn. Over time, however, he adapted his behavior, but solidified the content of his vision for the country, which he outlined during a trip to Argentina: Israel must be able to defend itself; its science and technology should be unrivaled; it needs to have the most modern weapons and the best intelligence. To accomplish this, it needs a lot of money, a free economy (with far less red tape), open markets and great foreign relations.
Here he identified his path to what has been the greatest ambition of every Israeli prime minister, from Menachem Begin to Yitzhak Rabin, from the political right to the left: peace. He understands that peace with the Palestinians deserves serious effort, which is why he has periodically frozen construction in West Bank settlements.
Moreover, in 2009, he became the first leader in Likud’s history to publicly adhere to the notion of “two states for two peoples.” That said, he also understands—unlike former U.S. President Barack Obama, who tried to impose on him that slippery and inconclusive terrain of territorial concessions after the failure of the Oslo Accords—that negotiations aren’t making any headway because the Palestinians actually reject the existence of the Jewish state.
It is for this reason that he has pursued an effective regional strategy, which could include the Palestinians in the future, through the Abraham Accords. His gaining of sympathy from neighboring Arab countries for his project is based, above all, on his courageous determination to oppose even the United States, or rather Obama, when Iran became a deceptive interlocutor for them. Netanyahu knows that his choice to speak sincerely before the U.S. Congress in 2015 about the Iranian nuclear threat was risky and critical, but it opened doors to an incredible broadening of horizons among Islamic countries facing that same threat.
Through his strategy, Netanyahu has pushed Israel on the path of its long-term mission as a small but great beneficent power—one that can help other countries tackle issues from water conservation to the fight against terrorism, from satellites to vaccines and from high-tech to medicine. In short, Israel under Netanyahu has become indispensable to the entire world.
This article was translated from Italian by Amy Rosenthal.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Caption: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud Party meeting at the Knesset, June 6, 2021.
Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.