New Leaders and Rosh Hashanah Reflections

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A poster in support of Tsippi Livni during the Kadima leadership primary

After struggling through yet another annus horribilis, we enter the New Year (5769) facing dark clouds and girding ourselves for all sorts of eventualities, including a possible war. However, there is cause for comfort in the demise of the dysfunctional Olmert government under whose tenure our public image and self esteem sank to an all time low.

We must at all costs resist pessimism and pray that, once ensconced, a new government will display forcefulness and restore our weakened deterrence – the strongest barrier to averting war.� We should also remind ourselves that we overcame far greater challenges in the past and that in the event of a real war, the restructured IDF represents one of the most potent military forces in the world.

It is beyond belief that even on the eve of his departure in disgrace, Olmert still persisted in his obsessively vain efforts to reach agreement with the Palestinian Authority at any price. He offered the PA 98.1% of the West Bank, released additional terrorists and provided the PA with weapons, despite the fact that arms previously provided were employed against Israelis. Olmert also reiterated his “sorrow” about the status of the Arab refugees without explaining who was responsible for their creation in the first place, or how the Arabs deliberately maintained the refugee camps as a weapon against Israel. The PA’s response to this appeasement was to demand additional concessions without reciprocity. To top it off, the American Consul General in Jerusalem disclosed that Olmert had been lying when he repeatedly assured the Knesset that the division of Jerusalem was off the agenda in the secret negotiations with the PA.

After the unsavory Kadima primaries, we now ask ourselves: Is the inexperienced Tzipi Livni, who only defeated an unpopular Shaul Mofaz by a slither of a margin, fit to lead the nation? Will she become a harbinger for reform and positive change or simply indulge in Knesset musical chairs and provide us with more of the same?

During the primaries, with the exception of Mofaz who irresponsibly recommended “bombing Iran” in order to strengthen his credentials as a “tough” leader, neither Livni nor any of the Kadima candidates made any effort to discuss policy. All they did was to trumpet their own virtues and condemn their opponents.

To this day, Tzipi Livni behaves as though the State of Israel was her personal fiefdom and refuses to disclose, even to her close party colleagues, what she offered to cede to the Palestinians in the course of her secret negotiations. Now, she talks about “bringing about change” but stresses that her objective is to create a new coalition without “changing the guidelines”. We are totally in the dark as to what her vision for the future is. For all we know, she may intend pursuing even more radical policies than those undertaken by Olmert, which by no benchmark could be deemed “centrist”.

Clearly, the vast majority of Israelis seeks to have some input and is loath to blindly entrust to Livni or any politician, life and death issues such as how to deal with Iran, the Palestinians and Syria. Nor can they rely on Kadima as a party per se because beyond misleadingly describing itself as “moderate” and “centrist”, the scandal ridden entity has no policy of its own.� Labor is in shambles and disintegrating even more rapidly since Olmert effectively hijacked its policies.� Shas has its one dimensional objectives and is preparing to leverage the next government. In a word, the country is rudderless.

Benjamin Netanyahu does have clear cut policy proposals, the first one being no further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians without absolute reciprocity. He is also adamant that the unfulfilled recommendations of the Winograd Commission be implemented; in particular the urgent need to protect the civilian population in the event of another war. For understandable reasons, he is less specific about handling the Iranian nuclear threat although he is adamant that the hitherto botched efforts to introduce international sanctions be pursued with ruthless energy.

Beyond security there are other pressing national issues. Largely due to Netanyahu’s reforms during his term as Finance Minister, our economy hitherto has miraculously sustained itself. However as a consequence of the Wall Street crash, we must now prepare for the global backlash which will inevitably reach us.

There is the future of our children, the educational system, which in the absence of radical reform will continue eroding towards Third World levels.� To his credit, Netanyahu has made educational reform a central pillar of his policy.

Where I regrettably fail to see a more specific Netanyahu initiative, is in the area of electoral reform which is crucial to our nation’s public hygiene.

There is the question of Jerusalem, the soul of the Jewish people. It would be tragic if the capital of the State of Israel falls under the mayoral control of non Zionists. Even worse, at a time when we are finally overcoming corruption in the public arena, Aryeh Deri emerges as a primary contender to be mayor of the Holy City.� That Deri was treated more harshly by the courts than his successors does not detract from the fact that he was convicted of bribery.� To visualize such a person becoming Mayor of Jerusalem is truly chilling and would have immensely negative national repercussions.

In this context, there is also a need to grapple constructively with the breakdown of relations with haredim in relation to issues such as conversion, the role of the Chief Rabbinate, national service, education and employment.

The only way to force politicians to relate to these burning issues is by holding elections. Besides, it would make a mockery of the democratic process if Livni formed a government without providing the electorate with an opportunity of reviewing her policies.

Despite the above, I remain upbeat about the future. I remind myself that most of our recent problems were inflicted upon us by leaders acting in their own interests and not that of the people. Yet, it is ultimately we the people, not the politicians, who will determine the destiny of our nation and I am convinced that people power will yet triumph in this country.

Truth to tell, every time I become despondent or angry, I look around with awe at the outstanding achievements of a nation founded principally by Holocaust survivors and Jews seeking refuge from oppression from all corners of the world. Israel remains the greatest success story of the 20th century and we are still the most blessed generation of Jews in 2000 years of exile and persecution.

My wish for this coming New Year is that Tzipi Livni recognizes that the Kadima primaries are not a mandate from the people to once more indulge in horse trading with the same failed leaders to form a new government. I also hope that Israeli citizens will become more heavily committed to their core obligations and take it upon themselves to exert greater pressure on their leaders to behave ethically. Above all, I pray that capable and idealistic young people are persuaded to enter the public arena and assume the reins of leadership.



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