I’m writing this on the day before Israelis vote for our Knesset, but one thing I can presume is that unless a cow is seen jumping over our ten-day-old new moon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be asked by Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, to form the next government.
If I had to choose one word to describe our prime minister, the word would be “sensational.”
No, he’s not a relative of mine. No, he hasn’t done what Heshy Frank of Quality Carpet has done for me by sponsoring my radio broadcasts for thirty-one years, helping me survive twenty-eight years of living in the holy land.
I knew in the year 2001 that Netanyahu had experienced a rebirth, so to speak. I knew then that one day this man would become what our small, holy nation really needs – a true Jewish leader who puts the importance of the citizenry, the importance of the land, and the importance of our Torah above the human desire for wealth, honor and success.
I first met Bibi in 1993, shortly after he’d been chosen to lead the Likud, making him the voice of Israel’s opposition parties during those early Oslo days.
I told him I was “Ben Israel,” a radio host on Arutz Sheva with a midnight show.
“Oh, you’re Ben Israel,” he said. “I like the way you speak!”
I had no idea the Likud leader was a listener.
When the leftist government forced me off the air, Bibi found himself missing my show and asked me to come to his office. “I’ll help you get back on the air,” he assured me. But I decided that since there was no real freedom of speech in Israel at the time, I’d pass on the offer.
Netanyahu’s popularity kept growing, and as it became increasingly apparent to Israelis that the Oslo agreements had been a tragic mistake, it seemed that Bibi would easily defeat Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the next election. But the horrible assassination of Rabin created a huge backlash against the right, and Netanyahu barely beat Peres in the ’96 election – and only by promising to continue the Oslo process
Many Oslo opponents lost faith in him. But I understood that Netanyahu’s honest spirit forced him to be truthful to his word – to govern as he promised he would on the campaign trail.
But then came Sukkos 1996, when a door was opened to the street from the Kotel tunnels. Yasir Arafat’s thugs started shooting at our soldiers, and when the air cleared eleven holy Israeli soldiers were dead.
At that point Netanyahu found himself too unseasoned and politically feeble to do what he should have done. He should have torn up the Oslo agreements and quoted Yitzhak Rabin’s own words: “If they use the guns we give them on us, the Oslo agreement will be terminated.”
Instead, the very next day Netanyahu found himself reluctantly shaking Arafat’s hand before a smiling Bill Clinton.
The Oslo disaster continued, but Bibi’s grudging acceptance of the so-called peace process gave an opening to opposition leader Ehud Barak, who unseated Netanyahu in the ’99 election.
It was right around then that former Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir termed Netanyahu “a traitor to his own principles.”
Barak took the reins and promised to see the Oslo agreement through and bring about true peace, but his efforts instead led to a second Intifada. The Likud convinced Netanyahu to return to politics and what was sure to be an easy victory over the now unpopular Barak.
It was then that Netanyahu changed the course of his future. This was to be the last direct election of the prime minister (as opposed to the entire Knesset) and while there was no doubt he would win, Netanyahu realized he’d find “himself at the mercy of the leftist Knesset that had been voted in along with Ehud Barak.”
So he asked the Shas Party, with its seventeen seats, to vote to change the Knesset. Otherwise, he said, he would refuse to accept the prime ministership.
Shas leaders, knowing they would lose several seats in a new election, turned down Netanyahu’s request. Bibi remained true to his word and declined the offer to run for prime minister, which led Ariel Sharon step in and win by a landslide against Barak.