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Bennett Isn't a Leader, He's a Manager. That's What Israel Wants

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Naftali Bennett meets with Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Friday.
Naftali Bennett meets with Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Friday.Credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Israel’s chief maintenance officer will return home Sunday after having racked up another proven accomplishment: The White House meeting went off smoothly – successfully, even.

And even after adjusting for the absurd, exaggerated significance that the childish correspondents in Washington ascribed to its smallest details – was it in the private dining room off the Oval Office or the kitchenette, did it last 25 minutes or 30, is he already a friend of Joe Biden’s or not? – Naftali Bennett acquitted himself well.

Nothing went awry, there was not even the slightest awkwardness. The predictable pronouncements were issued, the great promises were made and the prime minister will return to Israel safely, to the chagrin of the fans of Benjamin Netanyahu, who don’t give up for even a moment.

Bennett is certainly likely to blossom in his new position, but that position is limited: chief maintenance officer, nothing more. Israel today wants a manager, not a leader. After the Netanyahu era, the only thing Netanyahu’s opponents want is a little silence. They will get that. Bennett was made for the job.

They want a manager, because a leader has to contend with the big, threatening, genuine issues, the ones we fear so much. A good manager takes on only what he was elected to do: to bring silence. Organized, up-to-date, mechanized, not-from-here silence, to paraphrase the poet Yona Wallach. The meeting in Washington promised silence, at least for now.

The good manager Bennett is taking care of the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – not a trifling matter – which might bring a little temporary silence in the pandemic sector. There won’t be another lockdown, there may also be a normal school year; what more could we ask?

A good manager will endeavor to reduce violent crime in Israel’s Arab communities; that too is welcome. We shall have a national budget; cabinet members who are, for the most part, honest and diligent; and perhaps the Gaza Strip, too, will stay quiet and not nag us for a few months.

Bennett will maintain the appearance of fairness and matter-of-factness, of good relations with his cabinet ministers, who will reward him by not begrudging him. The longer the quiet continues, the more Bennett’s popularity will grow. The longer the quiet continues, the longer this government will endure and become popular.

Yair Lapid will fill this role after the rotation, which will be honored fully. Lapid, too, will be an excellent chief maintenance officer, only with a little more kitsch and pathos than the current one.

A significant proportion of Israelis will fall in love with the new role of the prime minister. It’s almost a national wish. To lead is to take risks, to set great processes in motion, to provoke noisy disputes. Who has the patience for that? To manage is to say that we’re managing daily life for citizens; a prime minister in the role of mayor. For most of us, that’s sufficient. A little more sanitation, a little less electric scooters. Something like that.

Behind this desire for a manager rather than a leader hides a loss of interest in greatness and a concealed terror of dealing with the real challenges. That’s why the longing for a manager has become so popular among Jewish Israelis. Jewish Israelis, whose status quo is on the whole excellent, among the best in the world, can only profit from this shopkeeper role.

There’s nothing like the status quo to make an Israeli feel more comfortable and improve his sleep. That fits the Bennett-Lapid government exquisitely.

Netanyahu was different, for better and for worse. His many fans may soon find their ranks shrinking. Bennett is no longer a “con man,” as the Bibi-ists called him, he was duly elected to the Knesset.

And the job is not too big for him, simply because he mistakenly called the father of a wounded soldier by the son’s name. Bennett suits his assigned role, as does his motley cabinet. Its composition guarantees quiet, as long the terror of Netanyahu hovers in the air.

So let us welcome the prime minister as he returns from his first state visit with the acclamation he deserves. As the old Israeli song goes, “How good it is that you’ve come home / how good to see you again / tell us how you are / tell us how it was, and why you didn’t send a postcard. … Everything here is the same.”

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