Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Israel, Bahrain foreign ministers talk Iran in groundbreaking public meet
Foreign Minister Israel Katz met his Bahraini counterpart for talks on Iran in Washington and the two posed for a rare photograph, marking what Jerusalem said was a boost in ties with the Gulf nation.
The photo of Katz and Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, which was posted on Twitter Thursday by US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and later shared by Katz as well, was taken at a State Department event on religious freedom. It marked the rare instance in which a top Arab official is publicly documented meeting a senior Israeli figure.
Greenblatt described the encounter as a “friendly exchange” and hailed it as “tremendous progress.”
Katz said the public meeting with the Bahraini minister was “another example of our growing diplomatic connections.”
“I will continue to work with [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] to advance Israel’s relations with the Gulf countries,” he said.
Katz later put out a statement, saying the meeting was organized by State Department officials and that he and Khalifa “discussed Iran, regional threats and bilateral relations, and agreed to remain in contact.”
Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (R) pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington
There was no immediate comment from Khalifa, but the details came as Bahrain announced it would hold a meeting on security, that will include Israeli participation, according to a diplomatic source.
Like most Arab states, Bahrain does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, though there has been an opening between the two in recent years amid their shared antipathy toward Iran.
Last month, Bahrain hosted an American-led conference where US President Donald Trump’s peace team rolled out the economic aspects of its long-awaited proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While no Israeli officials were there, a number of businessmen and journalists were invited to attend the workshop.
In an interview with The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the conference, Khalifa expressed the desire for better relations and eventually “peace” with Israel — a country he nonchalantly declared a part of the region and “there to stay.”
He said that he would like to visit Israel in the future — “one day, when it’s all open and peaceful” — but was noncommittal about normalizing ties with Jerusalem in the absence of a peace deal.
Khalifa, who is considered the most pro-Israel official in the Gulf, also reiterated his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, a comment he first made last year following an Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets in Syria.
Separately, Bahrain’s foreign ministry announced Thursday it will host a “maritime and air navigation security meeting” soon, but did specify a date.
The ministry said the meeting, which will also be led by the United States and Poland, was a follow-up to a February conference in Warsaw on the Middle East.
That conference was originally billed as part of efforts to counter Iran, but was later toned-down and instead focused on the vague goal of seeking stability in the Middle East.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stresses that this meeting will provide an opportunity for consultation and exchange of visions among many countries in the world, to find ways to deter the Iranian threat and ensure freedom of navigation in this strategic region to the world,” a statement from the Bahraini foreign ministry said.
The ministry said over 60 nations would be invited to the conference — the same number that attended the Warsaw meeting.
Though Netanyahu attended the gathering in Warsaw, he is not expected to be invited to Manama, which a diplomatic source said would be a working group and not a ministerial one.
However, a lower-lever official from Israel will be invited, the source said, in what would mark a rare instance of an Israeli official visiting an Arab state in an official capacity.
The conference’s stated focus on air and maritime navigation comes amid heightened tensions in the Gulf between the US and Iran, sparking concerns over potential Iranian attempts to sabotage international shipping.
The US has blamed Iran for a number of recent attacks on tankers — charges that Iran has rejected — and an American drone was shot down last month by Iranian air defenses. Iran said the drone was in its airspace, which the US has denied. (the Times of Israel) Raphael Ahren and Alexander Fulbright
Israeli army chief praises IDF innovation: It’s the biggest startup of them all
Chief of staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi told this year’s graduating class of the National Security College on Wednesday that the IDF is a key contributor to Israeli society and prosperity specifically because it is made up of draftees.
“One of the reasons that the State of Israel leads in entrepreneurship in general, and in the innovation sphere in particular, is the human-social phenomenon that is created from the very existence of compulsory conscription,” he said.
The need to take in young men and women from all social strata, economic, educational and ethnic backgrounds, “gives everyone an equal chance to develop, each one according to their abilities,” the chief of staff said.
Army service in many cases also leads to the discovery of heretofore hidden talents, he noted, as well as the build-up of self-confidence and other qualities needed back in civilian life.
“A country whose people have experienced challenges, overcome difficulties, functioned as part of a team, motivated people, carried out tasks, some at high risk, and experienced leadership, is a country constantly injected with fresh energy in the form of people with self-confidence, to whom initiative, a feeling of capability, creativity, and daring are an inner code to which they have become accustomed,” Kochavi said.
“The IDF is the biggest start-up organization in the country, maybe one of the biggest in the world,” he added. “A start-up for developing human capital and a community using unique methods.”
The result is good for more than just the security of the state, and “if the model of ‘army and nation’ were to end, he said, “Israeli society and its economy would lose a significant asset.”
In general, Kochavi noted that the IDF contributes both directly and indirectly to the economic success of the country.
Indirectly, because “Security and stability are the walls that protect the wheels of the economy and enable them to run freely,” he said.
But the army itself “is the engine that pulls after it hundreds of cars of heavy industry, technology-rich industry, companies and factories… that affect the Israeli economy from one end to the other.”
The final virtue of the IDF that the chief of staff extolled was how it manages to connect people to their heritage and the concept of service.
“The IDF strengthens the… identification of those who serve it with the state and the values of the Jewish people, upholds the principle of statehood and democracy, emphasizes the basic values of truth and honesty, fairness and mutual assistance, and above all teaches us how to participate in something greater than you or me.” (WIN) Staff
Netanyahu: We won’t hold back in responding to strikes from populated areas
It is time that the world understand the gravity of the threat posed by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah and act against them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, after Argentina designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization and ordered its assets frozen.
Speaking at a memorial for the fallen of the Second Lebanon War, the prime minister warned Hezbollah and Lebanon that there will be no “immunity” for anyone who fires missiles at Israel, “even if they hide in densely populated areas.”
Israel believes that tens of thousands of Hezbollah missiles in Lebanon are hidden either in, near or under homes in southern Lebanon.
“We will do everything possible to prevent harm to innocent people, but we will not grant immunity to rocket launchers and those who deploy them – not in Lebanon, not in Gaza or anywhere,” he said.
Netanyahu said that his government’s motto is, “If someone rises up to kill you, keep them from getting armed.”
The Lebanese government, he said, “is not objecting to the military entrenchment of Hezbollah on its territory. It will also bear the responsibility for any attack.”
Netanyahu warned that Israel will deploy “great force” if it must embark on another war in order to ensure victory. “Even if we have to stand alone against Iran and its entities we will,” he said.
In Buenos Aires, meanwhile, Argentina’s designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity coincided with a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as Argentina marks the 25th anniversary of the deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people died. Argentina blames Iran and Hezbollah for the attack.
Argentina also blames Hezbollah for an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 that killed 29 people.
The Argentinean government’s Financial Information Unit ordered the freezing of assets of members of Hezbollah and the organization a day after the country created a new list for people and entities linked to terrorism. The designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group was the first by any Latin American country.
“At present, Hezbollah continues to represent a current threat to security and the integrity of the economic and financial order of the Argentinean Republic,” the unit said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah on the move.
Last year, Argentina froze the assets of 14 members of the Barakat clan, an extended family that officials say has close ties to Hezbollah.
US and Argentinean officials say Hezbollah operates in what is known as the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where an illicit economy funds its operations elsewhere.
Argentina’s decision to freeze Hezbollah assets and join the United States in designating it a terrorist group is a significant win for US President Donald Trump’s administration as it seeks to increase pressure on Tehran and its proxies.
The financial impact on Hezbollah will likely be insignificant because it has other sources of funding, said Seth Jones, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.
“What the administration is hoping is that even taking little bites out of the apple right now may end up being significant in the long run if they can continue to freeze assets of organizations like Hezbollah in a range of different countries,” Jones said.
The United States, looking to revive a security relationship that suffered after a souring in diplomatic ties during the previous administration of president Cristina Fernandez, views Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri as a partner, particularly as traditional European allies have been slower to offer support amid US tensions with Iran, said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Argentina Project in Washington, DC.
“Clearly, they are not a good replacement for European allies, because they don’t engage Iran significantly, so they cannot put on the same commercial and economic pressure as the Europeans,” Gedan said of Washington’s allies in Latin America.
“But at least it gives the impression that the Trump administration is not standing alone,” he said.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz issued a statement welcoming “the important decision by Argentinean President Mauricio Macri.”
Katz said this is “part of the international struggle against terrorism, and especially against Hezbollah and its patron Iran.” He added that the publication of the decision on the 25th anniversary of the attack on the AMIA building “has special significance and importance.”
He said Israel will continue to lobby extensively to get Hezbollah designated as a terrorist organization around the world. On Wednesday, Netanyahu pressed a delegation of French parliamentarians to get Paris to follow Buenos Aires’ move. (Jerusalem Post) Herb Keinon
Hezbollah deploying forces along Israel’s borders as Gulf heats up
Watch the video from WIN :
Israeli Arab arrested in planning to bomb Ashdod Hotel
A resident of the Bedouin city of Rahat has been indicted in a Beersheba District Court on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack against an Ashdod hotel, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced on Sunday.
The Shin Bet, in cooperation with the Israel Police, arrested 20-year-old Adel Abu Hadayeb from Rahat in June, after he purchased materials to make a homemade explosive. Hadayeb, a Hamas supporter, was arrested with five hand grenades and a Carlo sub-machine gun.
According to the investigation, Hadayeb began to support Hamas after he was exposed to the Gazan group’s propaganda on the Internet, and that he had tried to prepare a bomb in order to carry out an attack against a hotel in Ashdod that he had known from his work as a gardener nearby.
The Shin Bet also accused Hadayeb of trying to prepare a rocket, and that he had purchased materials for this purpose.
“The Shin Bet views with severity the involvement of Israeli civilians in terrorist activity, some of whom are influenced by Hamas propaganda disseminated on social networks and through Palestinian media,” the internal security agency said in a statement.
Hadayeb was indicted for several offenses, including conspiracy to commit a crime (arms trafficking), weapons offenses (arms transfers), weapons offenses (arms possession), weapons offenses (weapons procurement) and weapons offenses (firearms). He was also indicted for attempting to make a bomb, an attempt to carry out an attack against a sensitive facility for terrorist purposes, and disruption of legal proceedings.
He was ordered by the court to be detained until the end of the legal proceedings against him. (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim
Israeli minister: We’re the ‘only country killing Iranians’
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi boasted Sunday that Israel is the only country in the world that has been “killing Iranians.”
Hanegbi, in a radio interview, brushed off concerns when asked whether Israel should be worried about the Trump administration’s “cautious” response to the standoff between Iran and the UK, which, like Israel, is a close ally of Washington.
“For two years now, Israel has been the only country in the world killing Iranians,” the Likud minister said. “We have hit the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria. Sometimes they admit it, sometimes foreign publications expose the matter, sometimes a minister, sometimes the chief of staff. But everything is a coordinated policy.
“The Iranians are very limited in their responses, and it’s not because they do not have the capabilities, but because they understand that Israel means business,” Hanegbi told the Kan public broadcaster. “We are very firm on issues of national security.”
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the only army in the world that is fighting Iran is the Israeli army.”
The Israeli military has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, on targets linked to Iran, which is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime in the Syrian civil war. Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in postwar Syria.
Tensions in the Gulf have soared since May, with US President Donald Trump calling off airstrikes against Iran at the last minute in June after the Islamic Republic downed a US drone.
On Friday, kicking off a tense standoff, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it seized the British-flagged Stena Impero for breaking “international maritime rules” in the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point for around a third of the world’s seaborne oil.
Britain said Iran seized two ships, but the British owner of the Liberian-flagged Mesdar said it had been released after being temporarily boarded by armed personnel.
That came hours after a court in Gibraltar said it would extend by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized by British authorities two weeks ago on allegations of breaching EU sanctions against Syria.
Washington has blamed Iran for multiple attacks on tankers in the Gulf.
The escalation comes more than a year after Washington unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and began ratcheting up sanctions against Tehran.
Earlier this month, Iran exceeded the deal’s caps on uranium enrichment, aiming to pressure the remaining parties to make good on promises to help prop up its economy.
Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if attacked.
The incident came as Trump and American officials insisted, despite denials from Tehran, that the US military had downed an Iranian drone that was threatening an American naval vessel in the Strait. Trump said the drone had been threatening amphibious assault ship USS Boxer.
The Revolutionary Guards released footage they said disproved the US claims. The seven-minute video, apparently shot from high altitude, shows a convoy of ships the Guards said they were tracking as they passed through the Strait. The vessels could not be immediately identified, although one resembles the USS Boxer.
As tensions soared, Iran’s archrival Saudi Arabia said it would once again host US troops to boost regional security.
The Pentagon said the deployment “ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats.”
The US military also said its patrol aircraft were monitoring the Strait, and announced a “multinational maritime effort” to ensure freedom of navigation in key waterways. (the Times of Israel) Staff
Trump, Macron to visit Israel in January, to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz
Yad Vashem is organizing a major event in January that aspires to bring a number of world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, to Jerusalem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that leaders would arrive in Israel on January 26, spend one night here, and take part in the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem the following day.
In addition to Trump and Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also be invited, as will the to-be-determined British prime minister. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might also participate.
It is not clear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will be involved. Earlier this month, Putin – during a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – invited Netanyahu to take part in a ceremony in Moscow next May, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis.
If Macron does take part in the event, it would be his first visit here as French president. This would be Trump’s second visit as president, and would come just days before the kick-off of the US primary election season, with the Iowa caucuses on February 3 and the New Hampshire primary eight days later.
The Post has learned that a major, unnamed donor has been enlisted to make the event possible.
President Reuven Rivlin alluded to the event in May during his speech at the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem.
“With the rise in antisemitic voices, I have recently approached world leaders to invite them to an international conference that will be held here at Yad Vashem next January, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz,” he said. “Here in Jerusalem, together with presidents and heads of state, we will join forces in the uncompromising fight against antisemitism, xenophobia and Holocaust denial.” (Jerusalem Post) Herb Keinon
Ayelet Shaked to head New Right party ahead of Israeli elections in September
Israeli right-wing politician and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked will head the New Right party and once again run with former education minister Naftali Bennett.
Shaked made the announcement during press conference Sunday night, marking her return to politics after resigning in the wake of the last election as the New Right failed to reach the threshold to make it into parliament.
Shaked will head the New Right party this time around, with Bennett serving as joint chairman.
Ahead of the press conference Bennett wrote on Twitter, “the country is more important than a personal advancement. The country needs a unified right.”
The New Right has expressed interest in teaming up with the more extreme Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP), composed of the Jewish Home and National Union parties, respectively.
Shaked announced herself in position to lead this bloc and ensure all right of Likud votes are counted and none are lost.
The URWP is led by the Jewish Home Chairman and Minister of Education Rabbi Rafi Peretz who has not agreed to take a back seat to Shaked should the parties unite.
But while the smaller right-wing parties continue to deliberate over their approach to the upcoming September elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly trying to wedge his own priorities into the negotiations.
It was also reported in Hebrew media that Netanyahu’s wife Sara met with Peretz’s wife on Friday and urged her to tell her husband not to cede first place of the unified parties of the right.
Sara Netanyahu denied the report, saying it is “fictional.”
Amid local reports on Netanyahu’s objections over Shaked taking Peretz’s top spot, the Prime Minister on Sunday summoned Peretz to an urgent meeting.
Peretz responded saying he “is pleased to see that the new rightists are reaching an agreement. Now is the time for true unification on the right. Ayelet and Naftali are already invited tonight for negotiations on the right’s unification.”
The Israeli public took to the streets recently calling for the resignation of Peretz from his newly assumed post after he made comments in favor of therapy to “convert” gay individuals into heterosexuals, adding that he has facilitated those undergoing the process.
He has since walked back from his comments, stating the he is “strongly opposed” to gay conversion therapy and never referred anyone for such treatment. (Ynet News) Staff
Breakthrough pancreatic cancer treatment phase 3 trial commences in Israel
Rafael Pharmaceuticals launched a phase-3 clinical trial on Thursday for pancreatic cancer at eight sites throughout Israel. The primary investigator is Dr. Talia Golan, head of Sheba Medical Center’s Pancreatic Cancer Center.
“It’s exciting to see the growth of cancer metabolism research in the region, following the strides that [CPI-613] has been making in the United States,” Golan said.
CPI-613 is the name of the drug that is being used in the trial.
The trial kicked off at eight hospitals throughout the country, including Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center, Soroka Medical Center, Sheba Medical Center, Rambam Health Care Campus, Laniado Hospital, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Starving cancer cells to death – a decades-old concept that has been repeatedly dismissed – is starting to turn a corner and make strides in cancer treatment. The concept of targeting cancer metabolism – called cell metabolic therapy – is that tumors could be treated by disrupting their source of energy, hindering cancer cells from growing and spreading.
Specifically, CPI-613 is a small molecule lipoate analogue, explained Rafael’s chief medical officer Tim Pardee. This molecule mimics the catalytic intermediate of two key tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle enzymes: Pyruvate dehydrogenase and alpha-Ketoglutaric dehydrogenase. CPI-613 activates the regulatory elements around each of these complexes.
The TCA cycle is a series of chemical reactions used by all aerobic organisms to release stored energy through the oxidation of acetyl-CoA derived from carbohydrates, fats and proteins into adenosine triphosphate and carbon dioxide.
“What it does is feed misinformation to these regulatory elements, making them feel that there is too much carbon flow through both of these complexes, causing them to be inhibited,” Pardee said. “It simultaneously inhibits both complexes so tumor cells that are primarily driven by glucose cannot utilize glucose in the TCA cycle. Tumor cells that are primarily driven by glutamine usage cannot use glutamine-derived carbons in the TCA cycle. And, importantly, tumors cannot switch from one source to the other in the presence of CPI-613,” he explained.
He said that hitting two complexes simultaneously has many advantages. One is that the carbon source the tumor is primarily dependent on does not matter; another is that evolved resistance for both complexes simultaneously is very unlikely to happen.
Pardee said CPI-613’s key differentiators are that it is highly selective on the uptake and target level in cancer cells, which leads to less toxicity to healthy cells. This allows for patients to receive extended treatment courses and for the drug to be used in combination with other drugs.
CPI-613 is being administered in this clinical trial with a chemotherapy combination of fluorouracil, leucovorin, irinotecan and oxaliplatin, called FOLFIRINOX.
The trial is a randomized pivotal phase-3 trial. Some 250 people will receive chemotherapy plus a full dose of CPI-613, while another 250 people will receive just the chemo. His hope is that by the end of September 2020, the results will prove the efficacy of the treatment and the company will be able to apply and receive expedited approval by the FDA. If not, he said that the earliest the drug would be on the market from this trial would be October 2021.
The 613 in CPI-613 stands for the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah, according to Sanjeev Luther, Rafael’s president and CEO. Luther is in Israel from July 16 to 19.
“To save a life is to save a universe,” he said, citing the Talmudic concept.
In Israel, instances of pancreatic cancer have spiked in the last five years. As per the National Cancer Registry, 888 patients were diagnosed with the cancer in 2013. The number of incidents reached 1,024 in 2018 and is expected to be 1,086 by 2020.
“With pancreatic cancer being the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Israel, we wanted to expand the trial to a region in need,” said Howard Jonas, chairman of Rafael.
Luther said that the company has already done “compassionate work” in Israel – using CPI-613 to treat patients who are seriously ill with pancreatic cancer and where no other treatments have worked or are available.
According to Dr. Philip A. Philip, professor of medicine and oncology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University, pancreatic cancer is also a major concern in the US; it is estimated that by 2030, the disease will be the second leading cause of cancer death. Philip is in Israel for the launch of the phase-3 trial. He explained that one of the reasons pancreatic cancer is so deadly is that there are still no early detection tests, which means that the majority of patients discover they have it when it already at an advanced stage.
“Every day, more than 1,200 people around the world receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and our trial brings hope as the only phase-3 trial in metastatic pancreatic cancer,” said Luther. He noted that the expansion of the trial into Israel is the “first step in bringing our commitment to developing treatments for patients with significant unmet medical needs to a global level.”
Luther is using his time in the country to meet with medical providers at the start of the trial. On Thursday, representatives from the eight hospitals, clinical trial nurses and pharmacists came together for a half day of training.
Rafael is conducting two phase-3 clinical trials – for pancreatic cancer and for acute myeloid leukemia – as well as a phase-2 trial in Burkitt’s lymphoma for CPI-613. (Jerusalem Post) Maayan Jaffe-Hofmann
What will history say about Netanyahu?
The prime minister’s legacy isn’t so much his record tenure as his deft stewardship of Israel’s path to its place as a regional power, along with his staunch refusal to endanger his country
by Jonathan S. Tobin JNS
The numbers are staggering, no matter how you count them. Whether you say 13 years and 128 days or just call it 4,876 days, on Saturday, July 20, Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s long-serving prime minister. That’s an extraordinary achievement, yet the milestone date on which he has surpassed David Ben-Gurion’s record tenure as Israel’s leader has served more as an excuse for an orgy of Bibi-bashing from domestic and foreign pundits than any real appreciation of Netanyahu’s legacy or his place in Israel’s history.
Part of the problem is that the obsession about the length of his tenure has set up a comparison with Israel’s first prime minister that is an implicit rebuke of Netanyahu. While the idea that there is any competition between the two is ridiculous, understanding the evolution from the poor and struggling country that Ben-Gurion led to independence and survival to the regional economic and military superpower that Netanyahu governs is helpful to understanding the latter’s achievements.
That most of the chattering classes in Israel and in most Western nations, both Jewish and non-Jewish voices, despise Netanyahu is not a secret. So it is little surprise that most of the commentary about his becoming the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history has largely consisted of a litany of his sins.
The substance of these charges is that he is an arrogant, corrupt megalomaniac concerned only with maintaining his personal hold power. He is blamed for obstructing peace, ending bipartisan support for Israel in the United States, alienating American Jews and conducting an assault on Israeli democracy.
Of those charges, he is probably only really guilty of an obsessive drive to hold onto power.
The notion that he is anti-democratic is utter nonsense and largely due to resentment on the part of his critics about his democratic victories. His unwillingness to be ousted from office by what appears to many Israelis to be unsubstantial corruption charges is no more an indication of authoritarianism than his efforts to rein in an out-of-control judiciary.
Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics since he returned to the prime minister’s office in 2009 after his first term from 1996-99 resulted in a defeat that seemed to have ended his political career. His comeback was partly due to luck because the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace offers, including an independent state, ensuring that the Israeli left was discredited. Netanyahu’s more realistic approach to the conflict was the only credible choice offered to Israelis.
But though his path back to power was paved by the bad choices of his rivals and Israel’s foes, Netanyahu’s comeback was a tribute to his political skills. The same can be said of his ability to hang on to office and win election after election.
That said Netanyahu’s long reign is also something of an argument for term limits. The prime minister has driven out any potential successor from his party in order to maintain his supremacy. And though the corruption charges that he is facing are not as serious as his enemies claim and mostly political in nature, they are still the inevitable product of any administration that goes on for too long.
But if a plurality of Israelis still thinks Netanyahu is Israel’s indispensable man, it’s because he has been an excellent prime minister.
On his watch, Israel’s economy has prospered, and his brilliant diplomacy has helped break down the isolation it previously suffered throughout the Third World and in much of Europe. By every normal measure of leadership, Netanyahu has succeeded brilliantly. None of his opponents would have done as well since they lack his economic and diplomatic expertise as well as his cautious and pragmatic approach to security issues.
Why then is he still so despised by so many?
Much of that animus stems from the fact that many liberals have never forgiven the Israeli people for embracing the Israeli right-wing coalition that Netanyahu now heads in recent decades as the Labor Zionist movement that Ben-Gurion once led became marginalized.
Many people will also not forgive Netanyahu for his steadfast refusal to play along with the popular notion that peace with the Palestinians is within Israel’s reach. It is this—and not the catalogue of his faults for which he stands accused—that is the real substance of the criticisms aimed at him.
Though many commentators decry Netanyahu’s upscale lifestyle in contrast to the asceticism of Ben-Gurion, his attitude towards the peace process is rooted in the same sober pessimism that characterized the policies of Israel’s first prime minister.
To the immense frustration of the international foreign-policy establishment, Netanyahu understands that the political culture of the Palestinians makes peace impossible for the foreseeable future. His goal, like that of Ben-Gurion, is to manage the conflict, rather than to engage in futile and dangerous efforts to solve it.
He deserves enormous credit for having the courage to say “no” to President Barack Obama’s efforts to force him to make concessions that would have weakened Israel. The same goes for his willingness to declare the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to be an example of reckless appeasement that abandoned the security interests of both Israel and the West.
If American Jews and partisan Democrats resent him for these stands or for his inability to magically make peace while the Palestinians continue to refuse to end their war on Zionism, that’s because of their shortcomings, not his.
Netanyahu may have stayed on too long, and his time in office may soon be coming to an end, even if the potential replacements are not of his stature. But fair-minded historians whose views are not tainted by leftist political bias will have to acknowledge that his stewardship of Israel has been largely exemplary. He deserves to be remembered not so much for the length of his tenure as prime minister, but for the able way he has carried out his duties.