Bibi Is All the President We Need

The president should be the face of Israel - maybe we should hold-off electing one until our country is in a more presentable state.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Peres and Netanyahu during the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. July 18, 2013.
Peres and Netanyahu during the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. July 18, 2013.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Who will be able to fill the shoes of President Shimon Peres, with his historic, hysterical, uplifting words in conversation with Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt when the team won the Euroleague basketball championship? Whose image, from among the current contenders, will we want to one day see on our paper money? Can we envisage seeing Fuad (Benjamin Ben Eliezer) on a 50-shekel note, or Silvan Shalom on a 20-shekel bill? How about Ruby Rivlin? That’s one way of deciding who should be our next president.

Is the whole issue superfluous? On the contrary. The president of Israel fosters the illusion of an enlightened country, which has placed a glittering display in its storefront window. He’s required to “unify the people” but to loathe Arabs, to display wide and deep learning yet be capable of joking around with Beyonce, to be a freedom-seeking liberal who doesn’t see the contradiction between occupation and democracy, and to be someone who contributed to this country yet quietly looked after his own financial interests as well. In short, he needs to purify the foul air while holding high the decorated cardboard banner which leads this march of folly.

On June 10, instead of a figure representing Israel, a president who exactly reflects this country will be elected. This will be a politician whose main attribute is that he is the one least despised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who successfully navigated the hurdle of being a compromise choice agreed on by Liebermann, Bennett, Lapid and Netanyahu. In reality, it is not a choice of the most deserving candidate, but of the one who was best at arm twisting. This will be a candidate whose election will grant benefits to his benefactor rather than to the country.

It could be otherwise. Instead of the power struggles ending in a modest prize for the winner, merely a presidency, why not switch to a presidential style of government? Not, heaven forbid, like the one in the United States, in which a whole system of checks and balances oversees the president’s actions, and in which the public settles accounts with a leader who falls down on the job, but more like the one common among our neighbors, such as Egypt. There, the president also commands the army, determines the principles of the state budget, navigates foreign policy, and outlines the boundaries of freedom of expression.

The prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has already recognized the advantages of such a presidential regime and is actively striving to become a real president, as in Egypt. Other worthy examples can be found in Chechnya, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, states with integrity and sincerity, which do not look for a representative figure that will mask the viciousness of their rule. These are states in which the president is the state.

The truth is that Israel already has such a president. He is called the prime minister. In a country in which the government initiates legislation and in which the prime minister can block, cancel or hasten legislation, his status closely resembles that of any president of a former Soviet country. When legislators obedient to him are the ones shaping the character of Israel’s democracy, contracting freedom of expression according to his and their tastes, and in which he voluntarily binds his own freedom of maneuvering, he is no different from Egyptian President Abdel Fateh al-Sissi, who always takes care to insist that he is “only yielding to the wishes of the public”.

When the prime minister fixes the national narrative and collective memory to his political outlook, and imprisons human rights in an ideological cage, he is on the path of Erdogan, which was laid down earlier by presidents Assad and Mubarak.

No other president could better reflect the true face of Israel than Benjamin Netanyahu. Only a small constitutional issue must be addressed and the system changed, but this should be an easy task for someone who considers the presidential institution to be redundant. Israel deserves a supreme leader, with everything done according to his dictates. Someone who can be quoted with the words “the ruler of Israel announced ...” or “the leader of Israel leader warned …”

Perhaps one day, when the country is more presentable, we will be able to allow ourselves a representative president.

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