We can no longer rely on coalition politics to protect our interests
At no time in the year do we feel Hashem's loving embrace more closely than on Succos, when we leave our secure dwellings for the succah. The succah is a remembrance of the Clouds of Glory that returned to Klal Yisrael in the desert on 15 Tishrei, after having disappeared with the Cheit Ha'eigel. That return of the Clouds of Glory is described metaphorically in Shir Hashirim (3:11) as "yom simchas libo — the day of his heart's rejoicing," the day the bridegroom brings his bride into his abode.
The greater the external threats, the greater our awareness of the need for Divine protection. The situation in Israel today does not approach that of Succos of 5761, just after the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Then I spent my time looking out from my succah on our fourth-floor balcony in Har Nof expecting to see armed Palestinians coming over the hill.
But a general sense of unease would characterize most of the Israeli Jewish population, as we contemplate the possible end of the decade-long reign of Binyamin Netanyahu, with no replacement on the horizon. Netanyahu was elected prime minister the first time over two decades ago. He brings incomparable experience to the position, as well as a keen intelligence and strategic overview that no potential successor comes close to matching.
True, there is much not to like about King Bibi. Even if the three indictments pending against him do not result in criminal convictions, they leave a stench. Sending around one's driver to pick up boxes of fine cigars and other delicacies at regular intervals, for instance, does not strike one as normal gift-giving between friends.
For more than a year, everything Bibi has done or said has been intertwined with his desire to avoid trial. Laws have been introduced in the Knesset narrowly tailored to Netanyahu's specific needs. He has not hesitated to call his former cabinet secretary and choice for attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit a tool of the left. His last two electoral campaigns have been characterized by fearmongering and the willingness to make any promise that might garner a few more votes.
Netanyahu has identified his interests with those of the nation — l'etat c'est moi — to a dangerous degree for any democratic leader. And if there is no plausible replacement in sight, that is largely Bibi's doing. He has assiduously worked to make sure that no one in his own Likud party acquires the requisite experience by ruthlessly mowing down all potential rivals within the party. The failure to develop a successor is irresponsible for a leader who will soon turn 70, and who has already been in power for over a decade.
Yet for all his flaws, polls show that a majority of Israelis still prefer him over any other potential prime minister. Many who find much about him repugnant can still not rid themselves of the feeling that Israel's situation is too precarious to place the country in the hands of an untried and inexperienced prime minister.
That fear does not just reflect Bibi's past achievements. As finance minister under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, for instance, he instituted most of the systemic economic reforms that made Israel's accession to the top rank of economic powers possible.
His contributions remain critical. Israel's first (of many) security requirement today is preventing Iran from establishing bases in Syria, especially close to the Golan Heights, and from transferring the most advanced missiles and other military equipment to Hezbollah in Lebanon. To that end, Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian military units and arms convoys in both Syria and Lebanon in recent years.
Remarkably, Israel has managed to do so even with the Russian military deeply embedded in Syria, which it entered to rescue the regime of Iranian-ally Bashar al-Assad. Not only has any direct military confrontation with Russia been avoided, but Bibi has even achieved understandings with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin that amount to the latter's virtual acquiescence to Israeli interventions against Iranian forces and interests. The thought of Benny Gantz rushing off to Moscow for talks with Putin, as Netanyahu has done frequently, or being able to maintain the existing understandings, is laughable.
At the same time, Netanyahu has skillfully taken advantage of the Sunni world's fear of the rise of an aggressive Shiite Iran to forge de facto alliances with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Were Israel forced to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, it is no longer unthinkable that the attack would be launched from Saudi Arabia, close to Iran's borders.
Indeed, Netanyahu has succeeded in keeping the world's attention focused on Iran's nuclear ambitions. He masterfully used the half ton of Iranian nuclear documents smuggled out of Iran in a daring Mossad operation to demonstrate Iranian deceit. That performance on the world stage points to another of Netanyahu's unique strengths: He is the most eloquent orator among current world leaders, with a flawless English honed in some of America's toniest high schools and universities. None of those who would replace him speak better than a faltering English or hold a candle to Netanyahu as an advocate for Israel.
Finally, Netanyahu has largely succeeded in ending the diplomatic isolation of Israel. He has successfully cultivated warm relations with the leaders of both China and India, the world's two most populous countries and huge potential markets for Israeli goods. He has visited Africa and convinced its leaders of the benefits that Israel can bring their countries.
MOST ISRAELI JEWS will be looking apprehensively to the future this Succos. Either Prime Minister Netanyahu will step aside, allowing the formation of a national-unity government, or it appears the country will soon be headed to its third election in less than a year. Blue and White insists that it will not enter into a national-unity government in which Netanyahu begins as prime minister under a rotation agreement. For his part, Netanyahu cannot accept anything less: Only as prime minister does he enjoy immunity from prosecution.
If no national-unity government can be formed, another election will be required. Prolonged electoral deadlock, with no effective government as long as elections loom, is not a luxury that Israel can afford. The constant threats all around require too many decisions to be made on a constant basis.
But there is one group of citizens that has particular cause for apprehension: the chareidim. True, their worst fears were not realized in the recent round of voting, in which Blue and White failed to win enough seats to form a government, and its key coalition partner, Avidgor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, was denied for now the opportunity to carry out its explicitly anti-chareidi agenda.
But the elections make more and more likely, either now or after the next round, a broad national-unity government between Blue and White and Likud, with no need for any chareidi parties. The two major parties have, at present, more than enough seats between them to form a coalition without bringing in any other partners.
Nor are there any major issues between the two biggest parties that would render such a national-unity government unlikely or unstable. The current electoral stalemate is largely a reflection of the overwhelming consensus among Jewish voters on the major issue of war and peace. Blue and White, which includes three former chiefs of staff at the top, made no effort in the last campaign to distinguish itself from Netanyahu's policies; indeed on occasion it even adopted more hardline positions than those followed by Netanyahu.
The chareidi parties would not necessarily be excluded from such a national-unity government. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz sent various signals that he was not averse to joining with the chareidi parties, and the Likud, with or without Netanyahu, would not be eager to abandon its traditional chareidi allies, whose support the party might need in the future. But, at the very least, chareidi parties would not be necessary to form a government — which means they would not have the power to topple it over a given issue. And at worst, the governing coalition might include both Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman in leading roles.
It thus becomes a greater imperative than ever for chareidim to reach out to the secular public and learn to speak to them. We can no longer rely on coalition politics to protect our interests. As we sit in our succahs and contemplate Hashem's enveloping love, perhaps we should devote a little thought to how we can share that experience with our fellow Jews.