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Good Politician; Bad Leader



There was a leader in the land once, who had a vision: a vision of peace. He was a soldier and a general, who had reached the highest position in the army and in the government, though in essence he was just a simple man, with simple tastes. He fought for his country’s independence, and commanded the troops that secured the country’s triumph and survival. But when the moment arrived to stand up and deliver peace, he did just that. He didn’t like his enemy one bit; most probably hated him and despised him. But he knew that peace you make with your enemies, not your friends, and therefore had pushed all these feelings of animosity aside, realizing what his people needed the most: peace and security. Like Moses many years before him, Rabin had his faults and his bad moments, and some wrong moves here and there. But mostly he had a vision. And because he always kept his eyes open and centered on that vision, he knew where to lead his people. He was willing to sacrifice himself for that vision, and indeed paid for it dearly with his life. And at least in that regard, again like Moses before him, Rabin did not reach the Promised Land.

His life was cut short not only by the assassin’s bullet, but by the enemies of peace as well, men who were walking among his own people. One of these men, a politician rival who inflamed some of the rhetoric that had brought about the tragic event of Rabin’s murder – calling him a “traitor” in Jerusalem’s public square, in front of a wildly cheering crowd – was Netanyahu. A man who eventually, and shortly thereafter, had succeeded in replacing the dead, visionary man as the leader of the state of Israel. He did that under all sorts of backroom maneuvers, forming and reforming parties and alliances. And yet as a politician, he succeeded like no other – almost – both in Israel and abroad. Currently, he is second only to the legendary first Israeli leader, Ben-Guroin in the length of his service (and rule) as Prime Minister. His people are fairly prosper and secure under his leadership, and because of that they lack, maybe, the necessary vision as well, or the will to fight for it. A long term vision, I’m talking about, for themselves and for their beloved country.

The Jewish people, as the recent holiday of Passover testified so well, and as the magnificent television five-part program by Simon Schama so pointedly described in his documentary “The Story of the Jews,” knew many ups and downs throughout their long history. They also lived and prospered in the Land of Israel at ancient times, and in other lands as well, and were pogromed and killed there – culminating in the Holocaust, which we had just observed yesterday – and had been pushed out before from the Holy Land and other lands. The best way to ensure that this will not happen again is by a visionary, long view of the goals of the Jewish people and their country. The shortest way for its demise and repeated past mistakes and disasters, a vicious and bloody circle indeed, is by relying on short term goals. As if just getting by, even if successfully so, is sufficient enough. Which is what Netanyahu is so good at, and the reason he is regarded, even by his own people, as “Mister Status Quo.” He is a good politician, the proof is in the pudding, but a bad leader.

A great leader needs a clear vision and true courage to implement it. If not, he is a mere politician, even if a good one. So good that in the previous government he was able to be the head of state with a minority party; and in this government he had formed an alliance with a party made of far-right extremists. Yet he is too short-sighted, and too afraid. And in that sense, the people themselves – the more determined people, the religious fanatic settlers’ camp, who indeed have a clear vision ahead of them – are leading the charge and not him. His latest decision to cancel further peace talks with Abbas and the Palestinians due to the tentative unity agreement reached in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas is nothing but a fig leaf, designed to disguise the naked truth of what is already a great missed opportunity for him to bring peace to his people; an opportunity actually not of his own making and work, but of other people’s concern and urgency. And yet, he is too afraid still. Moses and Rabin were not afraid. Or rather, they mustered the courage to overcome their fear, and in the process became true leaders of their people. If their lives were cut short as result of that – history and their people will always remember them and sing their praise. Which will never happen with the short-sighted, cowardly leaders, no matter how long they hold on to the reins of power. Their power is a false one, because it leads nowhere.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.” Israel.”

** “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


Red Lines in the Sand




A line in the sand is just that: a momentary, transient line that will disappear soon enough. It is what we used to do as kids, mark a line in the sand with our toes or fingers, signifying a border between two groups at play. Usually some type of a war game. Yet shortly, in the heat of the battle, the line will be distorted, and ultimately erased by our running bare feet. And if not by us than by the sea waves crushing into shore, which will sweep over it and smooth it quickly as if it had never been drawn. Unlike the common belief – that a line in the sand meant never to be crossed – it is exactly the opposite: meant to be crossed shortly, erased and forgotten by man’s play and war, or by nature’s forces.

A red line, however, is remarkably different. It is meant to be kept and observed. It is meant not to be played with or crossed over. It is meant as a warning, signifying something specific – such as the use of chemical weapons; or enrichment of uranium above a certain level – with grave consequence to the violator. Nature – other than man’s nature – plays no role in in this equation; it is entirely manmade. Leaders make a statement to that effect, declaring red lines, and they are supposed to follow through on their warning. Or else…

Or else they will be facing dire repercussions. Just as in the case of President Obama and his red line on Syria’s chemical weapon use. Here’s what he said: “… a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch (what a poor use of a word, “bunch,” for such an eloquent speaker and thinker), of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” We will not stay on the sidelines any more, he declared. We have red lines now. We will react forcefully. We will punish you. And yet, when push came to shove, and when Syria President Assad crossed that red line and used some of his large arsenal of chemical weapons – torturing and killing indiscriminately many men, women and children – the most powerful man on earth, supposedly, had failed to act and react.

Here’s way. Not because of Congress, which had seemed ready to reject his request before the Russians intervened; and not because of the American people, who by a wide margin had let their Congressional representatives know that they are opposed to any new American military intervention in the barrel of fire that is the current Middle east; and not because our longtime ally, PM David Cameron of Britain had suffered a humiliating defeat in his own Parliament; and not because the UN was still investigating whether indeed chemical weapons had been used; not even because – at least media wise – Russian President Vladimir Putin had outplayed Obama in this international chess game; but because, dear readers, he was not prepared to act and attack!

When a leader sets a red line, he better be ready to act on it before he even mentions – or draws, as Israel PM Netanyahu had done – the red line. His army and his intelligence agencies must be ready to act and react. And once that red line had been crossed, as it happened in Syria recently, that leader must unleash his force and come true on his warning. Otherwise, he’d be caught weak and indecisive, his pants down for all to see. You act on your warning – first rule of a strong leader – then you give answers and explanations, or go to Congress. But he was not ready to act, Mr. Obama, and was therefore exposed naked for all to see, and lost all credibility.

Now, while I’m not calling on Mr. Netanyahu to attack Iran nuclear facilities anytime soon – especially not now when there is a new president and the tone and manner have shifted somewhat – I do hope that PM Netanyahu is ready to act on his own, by now infamous, red line; drawn last year at the United Nation for all the world to see. America can survive, probably, such a blunder and humiliation. But Israel is another story, and it cannot allow itself such a setback. It lives and exists in the Middle East, the tinder box of the world, after all.

If this sound as an endorsement for Israel to attack Iran, or for another military intervention by America in the Middle East, nothing can be further from the truth. And while – as a son of Holocaust survivors – the distinction between gas producing chemical weapons and conventional weapons is very clear to me, I do not see much of a difference; both in aim and in results. The vast majority of the hundred-thousand people already dead in Syria were killed by conventional weapons. A thousand ton bomb landing on top of an apartment building, leaving hundreds of civilians, families and all, dead in its rubble, is just as vicious, appalling and wrong. My point was meant only to clarify the use, and overuse, of the term “Line in the Sand,” and reflect on the truth ingrained in the warning of “Red Line.”



* Appeared first on “The Times of Israel.”

** “Leave a comment” link is the last tag, in blue.

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