We expect national leaders to behave in an exemplary manner and act as role models to be emulated.
What most of us seek is a “perfect” leader.
But that is mission impossible. Such a person has never existed.
Some of the greatest American leaders have rich records of blemishes. President Lyndon Johnson was regarded by many as a coarse, brutal ill-tempered lout. President John F. Kennedy’s womanizing would today place him in a category with Harvey Weinstein. President Bill Clinton’s lothario escapades would put him in a similar classification.
Yet despite the unsavory aspects of their private lives, many of these American presidents still rank as outstanding leaders and have contributed overall to the best interests of the U.S. and the world at large.
The big difference today is the domination of social media and the obsession of the print media to expose anything and everything, including the most intimate aspects of the personal lives of leaders that in the past were considered off limits.
Did the British media excoriate Winston Churchill for consuming vast quantities of expensive brandy and cigars not received as gifts but provided at government expense? Did the media question the state-sponsored banquets and menus Churchill provided guests? It would have been inconceivable.
Of course, neither were all our former Israeli leaders paragons of virtue.
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding leader, was regarded as intolerant and bloody-minded about political opponents. His wife Paula was a kleptomaniac and he was frequently obliged to send someone to supervise her as she shopped. The media never exposed this.
Moshe Dayan had a reputation as an uninhibited womanizer and was notorious for his illegal appropriation of antiquities for his private collection. Yitzhak Rabin resigned when the media exposed details of an illegal bank account in the United States in the name of his wife. Shimon Peres in his heyday was known as a womanizer and a playboy. Ariel Sharon was allegedly engaged in major financial irregularities prior to his disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
None of these leaders were even remotely subjected to the demonization applied to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family.
The defamatory media campaign against Netanyahu by Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth backed by the TV stations has been unprecedented. Their obsessive hatred has meant that any means are justified to demonize him, including intrusion into the private lives of his children.
Under shrieking front-page headlines, the Netanyahu family was condemned for consuming expensive ice cream, accused of illegally profiting from the return of refundable bottles, excoriated again and again for the “crime” of accepting cigars and champagne from two wealthy admirers. The latest is the obsessive coverage of the crude babbling of Netanyahu’s eldest son, Yair, taped by his driver two years ago outside a nightclub and sold to a TV station a few weeks ago. It certainly put Yair in an odious position. But does this justify three successive days of screaming headlines? Since when are the drunken ravings of a young man two years after the event – the basis for three days of front-page headlines?
Haaretz stooped to such obsessive coverage of this incident that serious news concerning the threat from Iran, terrorism and other important national issues was buried.
In a sense, the same applies to the United States, where the liberal media has institutionalized an unprecedented campaign to discredit President Donald Trump in every way possible.
Of course, Trump, like Netanyahu, is from perfect. He frequently shoots from the hip and his utterances can be incredibly coarse and vulgar, such as his recent reference to underdeveloped countries as “shitholes.” He despises political correctness and regularly excoriates “fake news.”
But at the same time his instincts and long-term strategies seem to be on target and a blessed contrast to his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who expressed himself in a highly sophisticated and cultured manner but implemented disastrous policies.
Since Trump was elected president, America has experienced an unprecedented economic boom; he has given the Iranians notice that he will not remain idle if they fail to adhere to their commitments or continue their regional terror activities; he has warned the North Koreans that the days of appeasement are over and that they must back down or face harsh consequences; he has allied himself with the Sunni moderates, who today include Saudi Arabia, in a joint venture to prevent Iranian regional hegemony.
His representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is a breath of fresh air as she passionately challenges the bias and double standards of the U.N. The U.S. has already resigned from UNESCO because of its myopic attitude toward Israel and has drastically reduced U.S. funding for the U.N. budget.
Trump’s attitude toward Israel has, until now, been exemplary. No other American president has been so honest with the Palestinians. He publicly recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite threats of violence and pressure from Palestinians and other countries, especially the hypocritical Western Europeans.
Moreover, he announced that their free lunches were over. If the Palestinian leaders refuse to negotiate with Israel and continue to pay out millions of dollars as pensions to reward Palestinian terrorists and their families, the U.S. would cease acting as their banker and would terminate subsidies.
When taking these fundamental policy changes into account, one is tempted to concede that, although far from being the perfect leader, Trump is possibly the most supportive American president Israel has ever encountered.
The same applies to Netanyahu. His hedonistic inclinations may irritate many Israelis and his personal political relationships are far from perfect. We are frustrated that the haredi extremist parties hold the balance of power and are able to extort endlessly. But none of this warrants the incessant flow of abuse from his adversaries and the left-wing media.
They conveniently ignore his achievements. Israel has developed one of the most stable economies in the world. The Israel Defense Forces has never been as well-equipped as it is today with a capability of overcoming the combined forces of our adversaries. Our desalinization project is being emulated throughout the world, our hi-tech, bio-medical and other innovations are leaders in many fields, our religious and cultural institutions continue thriving and, despite the pressures and everyday threat of terror, Israelis rank among the happiest people in the world.
In addition to the re-establishment of our close relationship with the U.S., Netanyahu has successfully established good relations with India, Russia, China, South East Asia and Latin America – which 10 years ago would have been inconceivable – and not to mention our new covert relationship with the Saudis and Gulf states.
We have today two national leaders who have human weaknesses and faults. But despite this, both Trump and Netanyahu have, to date, moved in the right direction and any suggestion of unseating them now in the light of their accomplishments would be utterly foolish.
We must look at leaders not through the prism of their private lives and personal peccadilloes but in terms of their records of achievement and the policies they are implementing and the qualities of their probable immediate successors.
Surely Jews concerned with the future of the Jewish state should hope that the tenures of both Trump and Netanyahu are extended to enable them to consolidate what they have achieved.
We should also pray that the Almighty directs them both in the right direction.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom