The Israeli prime minister is currently the subject of multiple corruption investigations, some of which seem to be growing closer to threatening his tenure in office. But Netanyahu, the longest serving head of the government since David Ben-Gurion, has weathered many political crises, and may survive this one as well. Before speculating about what will follow when, eventually, Netanyahu does step down, Neil Rogachevsky takes stock of his career:
Compared with the tenures of almost all of his predecessors, Netanyahu’s premiership has seemed remarkably uneventful. The hallmarks of Israel under Netanyahu have been strength and stability. . . . There have been plenty of bumps, . . . yet some historical perspective is in order. The biggest military engagement of Netanyahu’s time—the 2014 Gaza war—was small compared with previous wars and battles, including with Gaza. . . . Meanwhile, over the course of Netanyahu’s rule, the country has enjoyed either very strong or better than average economic growth. When other Western countries sputtered in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Israel grew at 4 to 5 percent a year. A left-wing economic populist movement in the summer of 2011, motivated by high housing and food costs, has been if not diffused then at least limited. . . .
The principles of what one might call Netanyahuism are as follows: a strong, though cautious, policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians and foreign policy more generally; economic neo-liberalism where possible and practicable; and the middle ground and compromises on social questions, particularly of religion and state. They are a politics of moderation that fit well with what Ze’ev Jabotinsky, [the early Zionist thinker whose mantle Netanyahu claims to have assumed], called hadar (literally “magisterialism” or “honor”), a kind of enlightened or princely statesmanship. . . .
[A]n honest assessment of Netanyahu’s record would have to admit that his caution bespeaks a kind of common sense and moderation sorely lacking in many countries these days and often absent from Israeli history. . . . [He] has managed to temper fanaticism of all kinds, secular, religious, and military. This can be seen by the fact that his main rivals are not from the center or left but from the far right: populists in the Likud party and the splinter parties who seek to capture Likud’s [electoral] bases. . . .
Will Netanyahuism survive beyond the man’s tenure in office? This question is murky as he has few if any real disciples. Reagan had Reaganites; Thatcher had Thatcherites; even Tony Blair had Blairites. It’s hard to conceive that Netanyahu will have such followers. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, as the question of the merits of disciples is as vexed in politics as in the world of ideas. Do not disciples corrupt as much as carry the flame? Disciples can sustain the example of a character worthy of emulation, yet they can also lack the ability to adapt to new circumstances. As in so many other things, the example of Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the happiest one. He did not produce political disciples who carried his platform forward after his death, but his example inspired the wisest stewards of American government for decades.