Tuesday 23 July 2019

Netanyahu Breaks the Record

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu officially became Israel's longest-serving prime minister since the state was created in 1948.  And he could not have reached this historical milestone under stranger circumstances.

Netanyahu has achieved this notable record while currently governing the country without a mandate.  In spite of having been democratically elected to continue to rule the country in the elections in 2015, the most recent round of elections earlier this year did not produce any winners who could secure a mandate to rule.  A such, Netanyahu has remained in office as a caretaker prime minister until the next round of elections take place in September.  Without the support of the majority as required by our democracy.  And it is in this role as caretaker prime minister that he has overtaken David Ben Gurion's previous record of having ruled over Israel for 13 years and 127 days, in spite of the heavy cloud that hangs over his head.  He also holds the record as the prime minister to have the longest uninterrupted term as prime minister (10 years and 110 days and counting).

There can be no doubt or argument that Netanyahu has devoted much of his life in the service of the State of Israel.  Nor can there be any doubt about some of his significant achievements during this period.  Credit needs to be given for this.  As can be anticipated with any leader and public official, he has had his notable failures too.  And, as much as he would like to achieve the legacy of having been the protector of Israel during his term in office, it seems that he is likely to be remembered for the scandal that currently surrounds him, irrespective of how it ultimately turns out.  This is a real pity for the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history.

Along with this record, come many unwelcome and undesirable effects of the length of time that Netanyahu has been in office.  "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."  This quotation by Lord Acton from 1887 seems as relevant now as it was then, and can easily be applied to Netanyahu in recent years.  He has behaved in a manner that indicates his sense of invincibility, that has only been strengthened by success that he has enjoyed at the polls.  The people gave him the power, but it seems as though this has been taken for granted as a result of it lasting for too long.  The feeling that he will have enough public support to rule irrespective of how he behaves, has led him to really test this out with behaviour by him and members of his family that is way beyond what could reasonably be tolerated from an elected leader.  It is no coincidence that other democracies, such as the USA, put a limit on how long the elected leader is allowed to be in office for.  I believe that such a limit is healthy and much-needed in Israel.

In addition to the promotion of unlawful behaviour, the lack of limit on time in office promotes another unwelcome consequence.  This is the lack of incentive to groom new young leaders to assume the senior positions.  In Netanyahu's case, he has done everything in his power to ensure that there are no pretenders to the throne who could possibly cause a threat to his continued rule.  He has no interest at all to ensure that a new generation of leaders is prepared to take over from him when he finally leaves office.  There is a huge chasm in his party and in the country at the moment between the current prime minister and those who may take over from him.  This is surely undesirable and unhealthy.

As a result of his extended term in office and the anti feeling that this has generated against Netanyahu, the upcoming election will ignore the main issues of the day that face Israel.  Instead of focusing on security, economy, education or health care, the election will be all about how to keep Netanyahu in office or, more likely, how to remove him.  The country is currently divided into three camps; those who support Netanyahu at any price, those who would vote for Mickey Mouse if he was a candidate only to remove Netanyahu, and those who feel forced to vote for Netanyahu simply because there is no alternative credible candidate.  This is surely not what our democracy is about.

Now that the record has been achieved and past, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has become Israel's longest- ruling prime minister, the time has come to change the laws to prevent anybody else from surpassing this record.  Democracy is not only about holding elections, it is also about ensuring that the best quality candidates are encouraged to come forward and have an equal chance of being elected on merit.  Our democracy is sorely missing this right now.

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