The Jerusalem Post
The price of too much dishonesty and hubris
Ihave long appreciated so much of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership. Yet Bibi’s twelve years of hubris, marked by deceiving and mistreating those closest to him – too often – finally caught up with him. It came down to one of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous aphorisms:
1. You can fool some of the people all of the time.
2. You can fool all of the people some of the time.
3. But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Israel’s latest election and coalition-negotiation machinations unfolded almost like a This Is Your Life television parody in which all the people who were close to Bibi over the years, and to whom he lied brazenly or whom he otherwise mistreated especially badly and publicly, were invited back. They all had held posts they believed made them political intimates sharing personal collegiality. Yet he alienated them all, each time apparently convinced that another sucker is born every minute.
Consider the ways that Bibi’s fiercest opponents previously had connected with him as allies. He had named Avichai Mandelblit as his cabinet secretary from 2013-2016 and then vigorously backed him to become attorney-general. Before that, Zvi Hauser was his cabinet secretary from 2009-2013. He named Gideon Sa’ar as his cabinet secretary in 1999. Likewise, his chiefs of staff: Avigdor Liberman was his chief of staff from 1996-1999, and he made Naftali Bennett his chief of staff from 2006-2008.
Meanwhile, Ze’ev Elkin emerged for years as one of his closest advisers and allies, even acting as his translator at meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Benny Gantz rose to be IDF chief of staff, Netanyahu described him as an “excellent officer and experienced commander [with] rich operational and logistical experience, with all the attributes needed to be a successful army commander.” Yoaz Hendel had been Bibi’s communications director, and Ayelet Shaked had served as director of his political office. Even Yair Lapid served as a cabinet minister in coalition with him, not to mention other former Bibi allies like Bogie Ya’alon, who simply sat out this past election after trying to take him down in the prior round.
If politics makes strange bedfellows, the litany of former allies determined to eject the Netanyahus from their Balfour Street bedroom of 12 years is extraordinary. Politics is not supposed to work this way.
In America, after Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, he graciously named her his secretary of state. That act enabled him to seem magnanimous, to assuage her deep disappointment that she had lost to a novice – and, at the same time, it got her out of the country.
Likewise, Obama also beat Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and then made him his vice president. That’s how it often goes. Ronald Reagan defeated George HW Bush and then healed wounds by making Bush his veep. John F. Kennedy did the same with Lyndon Johnson. More recently, Joe Biden made Kamala Harris his vice president after handily defeating her.
The Jewish term for being magnanimous to a defeated opponent is “mentschlich.” It mollifies bad feelings and reduces the loser’s public shame by giving them something tangible after being crushed.
OTHERS IN politics are not as elegant, and they ultimately pay a price for kicking their opponents when down. Donald Trump, for example, had come under withering criticism from Mitt Romney, the failed prior Republican presidential candidate, during Trump’s first primary campaign. So how did Trump treat Romney after Trump won the presidency in November 2008? He invited Romney to lobby publicly, almost to beg, for the secretary of state position – and then embarrassed him by going with Rex Tillerson. Similarly, Trump took potshots at John McCain, the prior failed GOP presidential candidate, even questioning his heroism in battle.
And how did that contumacious hubris play out? Romney ultimately voted to convict Trump on an article of impeachment, and McCain cast the deciding vote in the US Senate that killed Trump’s effort to end Obamacare. Trump publicly had said that McCain was no hero, and one can imagine McCain, later in his wheelchair, suffering at the end of an excruciatingly horrible disease that took his life, thinking to himself, “I’ll show that arrogant lout what a person made of grit and mettle can do, even when wounded terminally on the battlefield.”
That is what Netanyahu’s hubris now has brought on him and on all of Israel. Consider the disdainful way that he played Benny Gantz by failing to pass a budget for two years in order to sabotage the alternating premiership agreement, or the way Bibi had Gabi Ashkenazi as his foreign minister, and yet left him clueless about the forthcoming Abraham Accords. Perhaps most egregiously, Netanyahu had shown himself to be small and unnecessarily punitive to Gideon Sa’ar. When Sa’ar challenged Bibi in the Likud primaries and got trounced, a perfect opportunity presented for Bibi to offer Sa’ar a consolation prize magnanimously, say, either as envoy to America or the UN ambassadorship. Gil Erdan did not have to get both, and either role would have sufficed for Sa’ar to hold his head high – and it also would have gotten him out of the country, neutralizing him for the next election or two.
Instead, Bibi shut out Sa’ar completely as punishment for having dared challenge him. In that prior government with so many cabinet ministers that they practically were giving out ministries as bar mitzvah presents, Sa’ar got nothing.
That is not the way to treat people, especially people whose own ambitions are not completely unjustified because they respectively have played the political game successfully for many years. One can just imagine what must have been going through Sa’ar’s head these past few years, awaiting the day to exact his revenge.
In the end, Bibi’s 12 years of hubris and dishonesty, highlighted by the way he destroyed Gantz as a political force by proving him to be a “freier,” left all other Israeli politicians concerned that their own future political ambitions would be imperiled by entering any deal with Bibi. Even Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas could not trust him. The old saw applies: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
This is the price of living by the principle that lying to all of the people too much of the time is always justified. It is not.
Rabbi Dov Fischer, a law professor, a senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, a contributing editor at The American Spectator, and a congregational rabbi. His book, General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine, explores the 1982 war in Lebanon and the libel trial that followed.