In the Name of God, Go

by October 2023
Prime Minister Netanyahu during security cabinet meeting, October 9, 2023. Photo credit: Screenshot from GPO video, (c) 2023 Thomson Reuters

It was late in the day on Tuesday May 7, 1940, when Leo Amery, a middle-aged former minister and Conservative Party backbencher, rose in his seat to address the House of Common in the aftermath of Britain’s disastrous Norway campaign. His party leader, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, had offered a weak defense of the Norway debacle, and several others had already criticized the Prime Minister. Amery then tore into the Chamberlain government, and concluded with Oliver Cromwell’s memorable words “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.” Three days later, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill succeeded him. 

It is time that someone in Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud Party rose in his Knesset seat and echoed Amery’s famous words.

Netanyahu cannot offload blame for the intelligence, operational and tactical failures that led to the surprise Hamas attack on October 7, which Eran Lerman so cogently analyzed in his Jerusalem Strategic Review article, any more than Chamberlain could point his finger at the British Army and Royal Navy’s colossal failure to anticipate German military moves and thereby to rescue Norway from Nazi hands. Chamberlain was sufficiently honorable to accept his ouster with dignity and accept a subordinate post in the new Churchill government. One wonders if Netanyahu could bring himself to do the same.

There comes a time when those in power have stayed on too long. Charles de Gaulle and Margaret Thatcher are only a small sampling of those who failed to recognize when it was time to pass the torch of leadership to someone else. Netanyahu has stayed on far too long and refuses to face the reality that he has “sat too long…for any good” he has done.

Determined to avoid prison time as a result of the corruption cases that have been arrayed against him, Netanyahu formed a coalition with the far right and religious extremists and lost sight of his primary duty, which was to ensure the safety of his country’s citizens. In pursuing his relentless effort to force an overhaul of the Supreme Court, egged on by Likud Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, and Simcha Rotman, Religious Zionist Party member and chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, and supported by Rotman’s party leader Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and the National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Netanyahu unleashed major social fissures in Israeli society whose resulting weakness Hamas easily exploited. 

Moreover, by focusing almost entirely on the demands of extremist West Bank settlers, supported by Smotrich and Ben Gvir, he appears to have totally lost sight of the need to ensure the security of the southern Israeli towns abutting the Gaza border. Compared to the daunting wall and fence system separating Israel from the West Bank, the Gaza fence appeared to be made of tissue paper. Moreover, when he continually gave in to increasing demands for unlimited settlement expansion, while ignoring the gang warfare that was terrorizing Arab towns inside Israel proper, Netanyahu invigorated Hamas in both Gaza and the West Bank, and progressively alienated Israel’s Arab citizens. He seemed indifferent to the reality that his government was overseeing a policy that was bound to fuel deep resentment even among the most moderate Palestinians. 

Finally, Netanyahu made no effort to quash a legislative attempt by ultra-Orthodox parties to equate attendance at yeshivot to military service, so as to codify and justify draft dodging by ultra-Orthodox students. His hands-off approach to this controversial measure further demoralized an unhappy military establishment, as well as parents and loved ones of soldiers, sailors and airmen and women who remained steadfast in their commitment to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country.

All because Bibi Netanyahu wanted to stay out of jail. 

The Prime Minister has now changed his tune, and called for a national unity government. However, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, leading the largest opposition party, has ruled out participating in such a government if Smotrich and Ben Gvir remain in it. To have a true unity government, however, other changes must take place as well.

To begin with, Netanyahu should relinquish his post, even if he cannot muster up Chamberlain’s dignity in doing so. Perhaps he could serve as a Minister without Portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office, as opposition leader Menachem Begin did in 1967 in the Labor Party-led unity government that despised him. 

Unless a Likud leader of stature can rise to the challenge – and few such figures have stayed in the party in recent years – Benny Gantz could replace Netanyahu as Prime Minister. The former Chief of Staff of the IDF may or may not be a Churchill, but one will never know until he has had the opportunity to prove himself. A war cabinet of national unity should be formed. Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a key figure in the divisive judicial reform, also must go. 

Personnel changes should not be limited to the government. Rotman must be replaced as chairman of the Knesset Constitutional, Law and Justice Committee, given his pivotal role as the unyielding opponent of any judicial compromise that President Isaac Herzog has attempted to put forward.

Israel will no doubt hand Hamas and Islamic Jihad a crushing blow, and I hope it will rescue most of those unfortunates- the young and the old— who fell into the hands of their brutal captors. But Israel must also heal its internal wounds, both those dividing Jewish Israelis, and those separating Jews and Arabs on both sides of the West Bank barrier. And it can only begin to do so when and if a courageous Likud leader fills the shoes of Leo Amery and tells his party leader and prime minister in no uncertain terms: “In the name of God, go.” 

Dov S. Zakheim
Dov S. Zakheim is Chair of the Board of Advisors of the JST, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Vice Chair of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a former US under secretary of defense (2001–2004) and deputy under secretary of defense (1985–1987).
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