Wanted: An Israeli Biden

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Joe Biden delivers a speech after being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States in Washington DC on January 20, 2021.
Joe Biden delivers a speech after being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States in Washington DC on January 20, 2021. Credit: Patrick Semansky / POOL / AFP
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

U.S. President Joe Biden’s inaugural address was inspiring, both in its content and in its delivery. This, especially at a time of national trouble, is exactly how a leader determined to heal the physical and emotional wounds of his people and his country ought to speak.

Israelis who watched the ceremony wondered why we don’t have even a smidgen of those skills at running ceremonies, which upgrade such events to a moving experience. When a new government is inaugurated in Israel, every prime minister similarly speaks about unity and promises, “I’ll also be the prime minister of those who didn’t vote for me.”

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But not infrequently, especially in the Knesset, the response is mockery. Even on such a festive occasion, there are people who won’t allow the prime minister to deliver his inauguration speech. Compare that to the dignity and decorum on Capitol Hill last week.

Biden pledged to work to heal his country’s rifts and wounds. Israel needs this no less than the United States does. All the candidates now running for the Knesset indeed promise to do this, but flog their rivals for their ostensible sins. And the media, as always, exacerbates what divides us.

The coronavirus, instead of uniting us in a joint struggle, has further deepened people’s feelings of persecution, and ultimately, their desire for vengeance as well. With regard to the coronavirus, this is expressed in lawlessness. And there’s no Israeli tribe that doesn’t have its own form of lawlessness, though some are greater than others.

And if the polarizing voices we’re bombarded with on a daily basis weren’t enough, we have now been saddled with a superfluous election that will necessarily intensify the polarization. Advisers and “strategists” of all sorts spur this problem. Even candidates who aren’t prone to strife and contention as a matter of basic character are forced to adopt a disputatious, reproachful language.

The “anyone but Bibi” camp, which is gaining encouragement, support and momentum from influential mainstream media outlets, accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of sole responsibility for the deep divisions in this country. Netanyahu does indeed own quite a few shares in the stock exchange of division, but as people say, “he didn’t start it” – and that’s the truth.

Nobody is comfortable with accusing himself. So when hatred is inflamed by public figures from his own ranks, he tends to downplay the importance of their attacks.

That’s what happened under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when he declared that he was prime minister of only half the people and used extremely insulting language toward the rival Likud party and, even more so, toward the settlers. Then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ language was also poisonous. But when Netanyahu began pay them back in their own coin (even though this was completely unnecessary), he was accused of being an inciter, an agitator and an enemy of democracy.

Among active politicians, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s conduct seems to be closest to that of a national conciliator. But his leadership abilities are very far from what is necessary to do this job. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, once a great hope, has fallen mute and disappeared.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid is more a man of war (especially against the ultra-Orthodox) than someone who brings peace. So is Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, another candidate for prime minister. If the Israeli government had a CEO, a technocrat responsible for implementing policy, Huldai would be the man for the job. But as a political leader, he, too, is an extremist.

So who’s left? Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett. Both of them have a personal morality with which most Israelis, even those who don’t share their political views, can identify. Therefore, they can be trusted when they promise that during the first years of the new government (which both aspire to lead), they will focus mainly on healing the country of the coronavirus as well as of its social and economic ailments.

If they are wise enough to join forces, the president will ask one of them to form the next government. This is how they will secure their future and be leaders for many years to come.