Israeli society arrived at its fourth in a series of elections shattered and divided. Each of the previous rounds robbed the society of its inherent compassion and solidarity. The first and key test of the next leadership, any leadership that arises, and, in any composition, will evolve around its ability to restore that and assemble together as many people and factions as possible. Only if neither major party is really satisfied by the outcome, will the public as a whole benefit. Israeli elected officials should glance at their European neighbors in order to examine and possibly adopt some of the more successful practices in the continent.
First, the leadership style and change of personnel: Since elections have long become a struggle for the identity of the state, inciting hatred and violence, the new leadership must make a U-turn and promote a different leadership style. The successful and extraordinary experience of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will retire in a few months after seventeen years in office, provides a worthy role model. In her somewhat dry style, she has led Germany to tremendous achievements, as the leader of the European Union which has healed rifts at home and abroad.
In an attempt to summarize the main lessons from her tenure, integrity and mutual respect are the first words to come to mind. (As Chancellor, never has she committed a single offense.) She has demonstrated an avoidance of dependence on one interest group, striving for compromise while demanding all partners share the same approach. Personally, she projects modesty and humility. (Merkel still resides in the same modest apartment she purchased before becoming Chancellor, never tempted by fashion nor accumulating assets.) Perhaps the most important lesson of all – courageous leadership and willingness to lead unpopular policies. Yes, yes, in Israel as in Germany, only a leader who is ready to relinquish power in order to lead by example, deserves to hold it over time.
Israel can adopt additional successful European governing practices, for example, a non-violent dialogue in the political arena, promoted by the European Parliament in Brussels. Political camps weaken Israel and ruin it from within, endangering the delicate fabric of its society. President Rivlin divided Israel into four tribes in an initiative he called Israeli Hope. Regretfully, during his term, the gaps have widened and divisions exacerbated. Exploiting this weakness threatens Israel’s resilience and sheer security more than any external factor. The future of the State of Israel lies within its unity, solidarity and the shared concern of one citizen for another.
An additional best practice worth examining, which a few Israeli contenders have endorsed, though it has yet to be adopted, is limiting the term of office of elected officials. In France, for example, the presidency is limited to two consecutive terms. Perhaps future Israeli heads of state should understand too, that if they have not fulfilled their pledge in eight years, they probably never will. Give someone else a chance.
Another practice worth considering practiced in several European countries, is the appointment of professional and independent ministers. Subject to those who are elected, but not themselves politicians belonging to a certain party, should allow these ministers the freedom to decide matters on their own terms without foreign, political interests shading their perspective. Consider the quality of governance by expert ministers, or, as they are called in Europe, technocrats in the fields of economy, transport, health, agriculture or the environment. What an immense contribution this might be to restoring public confidence in the system.
Liberty would seem more certain this Passover season if Israelis were given real hope by their leaders. Not necessarily in an imaginary peace deal or a sophisticated military adventure, but for a fairer and less violent society. Led by a government ascetic relative to its predecessor, guided by the pursuit of broad public partnership and by compromise, for the benefit of the public and not at its expense. A government in which representatives identified with practicing their religious beliefs serve the public alongside secularly self-defined individuals, Jews alongside Arabs, as long as everyone is committed to the same democratic treaty and recognition for Israel’s Zionist character, respecting one another as fellow citizens.
This post was co-authored with On Levi, who, together with Raanan Eliaz, is a member of the Europe-Israel Network.
On Levi, a veteran expert on marketing and communications strategy, specializes in planning and implementation of campaigns in the public sector, corporates, nonprofits and start-ups.
Raanan Eliaz. Founder of the Europe-Israel Network, dedicated to fortifying the resilience of the Israeli society. Led throughout 2017 a network of organizations he created, ELNET and the Forum of Strategic Dialogue.