Editorial

Netanyahu the Hasmonean

The prime minister promised to guarantee that modern Israel can break the ancient kingdom’s longevity record, but he fails to understand the real lessons of that dynasty

Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu ay a Bible study session in Jerusalem, 2016
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu ay a Bible study session in Jerusalem, 2016 Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

During a Bible study session that Benjamin Netanyahu hosted in his home last week, the prime minister reminded his guests that the Hasmonean kingdom survived for only around 80 years, and that he was working to make sure that modern Israel surpasses that to reach the century mark (Jonathan Lis, Oct. 10). “Netanyahu said our existence isn’t self-evident and he would do everything he can to protect the state,” one participant reported.

Netanyahu’s remarks provide a window into his mood as a leader. It has repeatedly become clear that here is a man with a pessimistic, defensive, survivalist outlook that in recent years has translated to a destructive Israeli policy: chronic refusal to engage in negotiations, turning a blind eye to regional peace initiatives, a complete distrust of international agreements alongside alliances with reactionary forces.

A comparison between the Netanyahu and the Hasmonean eras would likely embarrass the prime minister. In the course of his years in power, Netanyahu has not formed complex alliances or led exceptional military campaigns in an effort to guarantee the state’s future. He has labored principally to preserve the status quo, preferring to manage rather than to resolve conflicts. His legacy is one of passive survival: He does whatever is necessary to remain in power (“the Arabs are going to the polls in droves”), choosing to frighten the nation in order to avoid making any move that involves risk but could bring long-term benefits.

The analogy between modern Israel and the Hasmonean kingdom is significant because the Jews enjoyed self-rule in both eras. But the real challenge of historical analogies is to learn from them. Netanyahu should have asked himself about the historical factors that brought about the end of Hasmonean independence, and how not to repeat the mistakes of history. Netanyahu knows very well that the Hasmonean story is one of ideological fervor mixed with military enthusiasm. This was a fatal combination, characterized by internal tensions over issues that today are referred to as “religion and state,” all under a dynasty that became increasingly corrupt. In today’s terms, Habayit Hayehudi meets the “royal family.”

Netanyahu’s years in power have proved that he is incapable of fulfilling the national mission that his own historical analysis demands; he not only lacks the skills needed to solve Israel’s problems but is himself responsible for many of them. Netanyahu must be replaced by a leader who understands that merely breaking the Hasmonean record of 80 years and making it to 100, even as an interim objective, cannot be the basis for a national vision.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel