Maybe you remember the conversation we had back in November 2018 when we were waiting for our flight home from New York. I was coming back from a lecture tour. You were coming back from a trip to Pittsburgh. In the aftermath of the massacre of American Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue, as minister of education and diaspora affairs, you rushed to the scene as the representative of the State of Israel to console and support the community.
I was bursting with pride at your conduct there. When American Jewish leaders tried to use the atrocity to harm then-president Donald Trump, falsely accusing him of responsibility for the slaughter, you refused to play along. You were pilloried in the American Jewish media for sticking to the truth. Dan Shapiro raced out an op-ed telling you to shut up. But you were a hero to me.
You and I never spoke about the source of your sour relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I didn’t attribute much importance to your feud. I figured that if leaders focus on advancing the national interest in light of their values and beliefs, they can find a way to work together for the good of the country and the nation.
In your case, I assumed your commitment to our common course on the ideological right would enable you to work with Netanyahu despite the fact that he once tried to tar the good names of your late father and your wife in the press. It’s not as though your hands were completely clean, and more to the point, like me, you left a successful career to enter politics. You didn’t leave high-tech because you needed the glory. You did it because you were an idealist and a patriot who wanted to make a real difference.
During the race two years ago, I never doubted your commitment to our common ideological course. But over the past year, I’ve started to wonder if I pegged you wrong. In the public debate about the sovereignty plan, you were notably silent. So too, in the face of the indictments concocted against Netanyahu by the legal fraternity, you are AWOL.
You know Netanyahu is being tried for actions that aren’t criminal. You know that every day this travesty continues the threat to Israel’s democratic system increases. And yet, you stand by in silence as if this has nothing to do with you.
After your speech at the Knesset last night, my fears about your character have only increased. While paying lip service to the goal of forming a right-wing government under Netanyahu, you made no effort to hide that what you really seek is to serve as prime minister, of what you coyly referred to as a “unity government.”
I know you know that the government you are referring to won’t be a “unity” government. It will be a leftist government and you will serve as its right-wing figurehead. As heads of coalition factions, by law, post-Zionist Labor leader Merav Michaeli and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz will be voting members of your security cabinet. Do you really believe you can deal with Iran’s nuclear program with them at your side?
Do you really believe you can protect the communities in Judea and Samaria and competently fight Palestinian terrorists with Yair Golan at your side? This is the guy who compared Israel to 1930s Germany. Who are you kidding?
You said last night that Netanyahu is to blame for the absence of a 61-seat majority because he hasn’t compromised with Gideon Sa’ar. But you know that it’s Sa’ar who is boycotting Netanyahu, not the other way around. You have significant leverage over Sa’ar. Why don’t you use it to try to form a right-wing government? Why are you instead coordinating your moves with him?
This brings us back to the “unity” government you intend to form and preside over if, as you stipulated last night, it doesn’t compromise your values. You don’t need six weeks to figure out that you won’t be able to both stay true to your beliefs and sit with the radicals in Meretz and Labor. You know that already.
Indeed, it is far from clear you’ll be able to stay true to your beliefs and sit with Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz. They think that Iran’s nuclear program is America’s problem, not ours. Lapid supports the nuclear deal and thinks it was a mistake to seize Iran’s nuclear archive and kill the head of its nuclear program. What common ground can you build with him that doesn’t compromise your values?
Furthermore, you will have no power to defend Israel’s interests to the hostile Biden administration when you preside over a coalition of parties, which like Biden and his advisers, wish to restore the PLO’s veto power over our rights and interests in Judea and Samaria.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri proposed a way to get out of the impasse: direct elections for prime minister. You said last night that you would support the plan only if your plan to form a leftist government fails.
If you change your mind and support Deri’s proposal, we will have the requisite majority to move ahead with snap elections and enable the formation of a Netanyahu-led right-wing government. If you support the move, you will make a decisive contribution to ending the now two-year-old political crisis, and then you will serve as a senior member of a right-wing government with a mandate to advance every single one of your goals for the country. Just by keeping true to your beliefs, you will secure your future as a national leader.
If instead, you join the left, to be sure, you will receive the title of prime minister, but at the cost of abandoning everything you stand for, and ending your political career the next time we go to the polls.
Naftali, don’t abandon the course. Keep faith with it. Advance it, and it will push you forward.
Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.”
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.