Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The problem with the Israeli Government’s handling of the matter of permitting women at the Kotel gives perfect credence to the weakness of the political leadership and its unwillingness to make the hard decisions which strong, effective decision-makers accept as part of their governing responsibility. What is critical is that this decision basically only affects Jews, while such conduct in matters of national security and geopolitical problems affect Israel’s place in the world. The similarity between them is in their approach to decision-making.
Maintaining the status quo for women prayer groups at the Kotel—which contradicts what had been decided by the Cabinet in February—demonstrates that ultimately politics is determining whether the decision will or will not take hold. To most observers it was clear some weeks ago, that while Bibi and even some in his Government might well have wanted the change, it would never be implemented. It was totally predictable when the original compromise was reached to institute the change that pressure from religious parties on the Government would likely doom the deal. To be more precise, the Government’s unwillingness to stand up to the political pressure from the right wing religious parties meant that this effort to grant more equitable religious opportunities for non-Orthodox communities would be deemed to be politically unsustainable by the current Government.
Over the past week, since the shooting in Hebron, the Prime Minister as well as other Members of the Government have responded to the actions of the IDF medic’s apparent shooting of a wounded Arab laying on the ground. (Theirs was not a judicial or legal evaluation of the incident, but rather political leaders making judgments; responding within a domestic as well as an international operation.)
For both the leadership of the IDF and the soldiers themselves, however, there is a need for a political leader to lend support to the military training and the values for which the Israeli military is recognized and renowned. When those values are violated—or even appear to have been abused—it is incumbent for a leader to be able to withstand the political pressure and to protect the institution and capitulate to the political exigencies of the moment.
With all the appropriate caveats, Netanyahu should have demonstrated understanding not only for the incident and the stabbed Israeli soldier but also for a victim who appeared to have been murdered by soldier who lost himself and whose comrades failed to step forward to prevent the shooting. Both the military inquiry and courts will judge the appropriateness and legality of the soldier’s shooting, but the Prime Minister ought not to have done political cartwheels to appease his hardline political partners.
On an international level, had Bibi responded more judiciously and objectively, he could have reinforced on a global stage the high level of sensitivity employed by Israel when one of its own soldiers appears to violate its military’s code of ethics. Netanyahu’s political instincts dominate his thinking and thus Israel lost another opportunity to try to counter hostile world opinion about Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis its Arab population.
At the end of the day, for political decision-makers there are three components to what constitute a decision: convictions, political survival, and political expediency. Great leaders are determined by which of these variables dominate their processes. This was something Ben-Gurion and Begin understood.