Time for Change in Israel

As we mark Passover, when Jews celebrate their founding liberation from a tyrannical Pharaoh who enslaved them, the sages remind us Pharaohs come in all guises and liberation is not a one-time event. It must be re-enacted in each generation and in each heart. Today,16 million Jews in a world of eight billion face rising external threats. The indigenous home of the Jewish people and the lone Jewish state among 195 countries is encircled by Iranian-armed proxies committed to its annihilation and by increasing global delegitimization.

Yet it’s hard to find a graver internal challenge to both Israel and world Jewry than Benjamin Netanyahu. Yes, echad mishelanu, one of ours. Democratically elected by a sovereign Jewish nation in whose affairs, American Jews are repeatedly warned, it is wrong to interfere or even criticize. But just as any Jew in America may speak out against a foreign potentate such as Vladimir Putin or Victor Orban, we are free to criticize any world leader. Especially a distracted, criminally indicted Prime Minister who failed to protect the Jewish homeland from its worst-ever, mass-casualty attack and whose reactionary ultra-nationalism tests our values and identity as Jews.

Netanyahu did not just fail Israelis on 10/7 and in the mismanaged war since, his actions directly imperil our own status and safety in America. Our children’s, too. We must also decry a grandiose, divisive figure whose small country depends on our support and our votes in Congress but who provincially smashed U.S. pro-Israel bipartisanship and even endangers America’s standing and stability. If dual loyalty is an anti-Semitic trope, so is dual disloyalty.

On this Passover, we must call out Benjamin Netanyahu’s rap sheet of multiple misdeeds and catastrophic failures. He is incontrovertibly Israel’s longest serving and worst Prime Minister. A once-blessed-seeming and accomplished figure who still holds parts of his nation in thrall—for all their hardheadedness, the children of Israel remain susceptible to false idols—Netanyahu has turned into a corrupt and destructive autocrat, an Israeli Pharaoh.

Having decimated albeit not eradicated the terrorist army he long bolstered, Netanyahu could end the Gaza war and rescue every Israeli hostage while offering Palestinians, absent Hamas, a pathway to govern a demilitarized Gaza under an international force. But instead, he’s scheming to stay in power by pandering to the messianic Israeli right (whom he elevated) and avoiding elections until his battered reputation recovers. He’s prolonging the war and dire humanitarian crisis and risking new conflicts while squandering a historic opportunity for a US-Saudi-Israel pact and Israeli-Palestinian progress.

Appallingly, he’s reverting to the same inflammatory language that launched him as the anti-Rabin, anti-Oslo rabble rouser in 1995 but whose repeated failure as policy—suppressing moderate Palestinians, thus granting extremists a foothold—contributed to the unprecedented catastrophe of October 7.

It is a bitter, tragic but underappreciated irony that amid all its fall-out, the cataclysm of 10/7 proved the far-reaching, extra-legal veracity of the three criminal charges against Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial: “fraud, bribery and breach of trust.” This was far worse than trading political favors and regulatory benefits for lavish gifts and flattering coverage from moguls. Netanyahu’s greatest, long-term “fraud” (the Palestinians are a sideshow and can be safely marginalized) and his systematic policy of “bribery” to perpetuate that fraud (paying off the violently Islamist Hamas to buy quiet and undermine the Oslo-abiding Palestinian Authority) were fatally implicated on 10/7. The upshot? Netanyahu’s seismic and ignominious “breach of trust” with the Israeli public: his failure to protect the nation, his most sacred obligation, leading to Israel’s worst one-day death toll and the greatest loss of Jewish lives since the Holocaust.

It’s hard to overstate how 10/7 was a total refutation of Netanyahu’s 30-year policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ensuring Israel’s security. He was completely, cataclysmically, wrong. Thousands of abandoned Israel civilians paid the price in blood and trauma and will continue to pay for a generation. (Notwithstanding 200,000 internally displaced Israelis.) Yet now Netanyahu outrageously tries to dodge and spin his colossal failure. He pretends Israel’s most racist, anti-Palestinian, ultra-right government that he assembled and led did not bring about this disaster. Or that he wasn’t repeatedly warned his judicial overreach was undermining Israel’s military and inviting attack.

Like the son who murders both parents, then demands mercy as an orphan, Netanyahu now claims only he can defend Israel from the same Jihadist group he propped up for years to avoid negotiating with its secular, more moderate alternative. Can you really trust this compromised, ineffective man to protect the Jewish state? Or to conduct a strategic war with accountability for Israeli hostages, Palestinian non-combatants and a coherent post-war plan? Underneath his political brilliance and wily rhetoric, Netanyahu is a repeat failure. And one-man wrecking crew. He has strengthened Israel’s greatest enemy, enhancing Iran’s nuclear, ballistic and proxy capability while cementing its alliance with Russia and China. Simultaneously, he weakened Israel’s crucial U.S. alliance, damaged Israel’s international reputation and provoked anti-Semitism globally. He’s even stealthily continuing the judicial coup that led to extraordinary nationwide protests against his corruption and illiberalism.

We should urge Netanyahu’s replacement now despite the ongoing war in Gaza, knowing every decision he makes is tainted by self-interest, not always Israel’s best interest. The generals in the War Cabinet don’t need him and any of his rivals from the non-extremist right, center or left could do a better job tomorrow. If this Pharoah won’t let his people go, they need to let him go!

I propose a new song of liberation for this year’s Haggadah. It draws on a popular Seder song about gratitude that lists all the great deeds God performed for the Jewish people, answered by “Dayenu,” meaning “it would have been enough” (had he only done this one thing for us). But in the contrarian spirit of this new song for change, celebrants compile a list of many awful things Netanyahu has done and declare our ingratitude to him. And we remind ourselves each bad act alone should have been enough to eject him. The list culminatesin theunmitigated disaster of October 7 and the equally disastrous war since. How many of Bibi’s iniquities can you list for this year’s Seder? But Israel’s haters and anti-Semites beware. This new song aims to strengthen the Jewish state and the Jewish people, not weaken them. It’s a song for Jews who celebrate freedom and reject oppression. Palestinians and faithful Muslims must do their own reckoning with the despotism, debauchery, and fanaticism of Hamas. If the Jews need a new Moses to show them a more tolerant, transformative vision of the Promised Land, Palestinians need a new Mohammed who can free them from the bondage of Hamas and promote the Islamic virtues of peace and reconciliation. There has been too much suffering and death on all sides. Israel must replace Netanyahu and re-establish its long-term security and its moral standing while moving beyond the 57-year occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. Palestinians must replace Hamas and choose new leadership that upholds both their struggle for autonomy and their ethical values. No progress is possible without both internal and external liberation. Dayenu. Enough already!