How Leaders Fail Us

The recently announced indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu was both (a) a disappointment that what he is alleged to have done has led to this as well as (b) a testament to Israeli democracy that our judicial system actually works.  Time will tell whether or not the evidence proves his guilt.

But one way or the other, the indictment of a country’s leader for bribery, fraud and breach of trust is, in itself, evidence of a failure of leadership.

One can ask, how do leaders fail?  Clearly it is in one of three ways: they (a) can simply fail to lead, (b) can make good on all their campaign promises whether or not those are in the best interests of the country they lead and (c) conduct themselves in a manner that is dishonest by using their position for personal or political gain.

In Netanyahu’s case he fails primarily on the third point.  There is no question, for example, that he has led Israel during his 10+ years Prime Minister.  Israel has become a technological powerhouse, has a relatively prosperous economy, low unemployment, controlled inflation and a well-functioning democracy, at least by the standard in this part of the world.

For the most part he has also made policy decisions that are in the best interests of the country and has successfully kept Israel out of armed conflict with its neighbors.  There have, of course, been mini wars on the southern border, sadly with casualties.  Nevertheless, given the geographical area in which we live major conflagration has been avoided.

Where he seems to have failed as a leader is in the third category.  That is using his position for personal or political gain.  There is no point in this column to go into the specifics as they are well detailed in the charges which have been leveled against him.  But, even if he is cleared of all charges, what has happened does not pass what the lawyers like to call “the smell test.”  What he is accused of does not smell right and the stench is strong enough for the Attorney General to have issued the indictments.

Across the ocean there is a similar evaluation of leadership under way as the U.S. Congress moves forward with its investigation of whether or not to impeach the U.S. President.  In that case it would appear that there is a suspicion of failure on both the second and third categories outlined above.

Clearly the Congress is investigating whether or not the President used his position for personal or political gain.  Again, the simple fact that it appears to many that this is the case is, in itself, a failure of leadership.  But there are also many in both houses of congress who believe that a number of decisions which have been made vis-à-vis U.S. foreign policy, while perhaps in keeping with the promises made during the 2016 election campaign, were not in the best long-term interests of the U.S.

Some examples might include the sudden agreement to withdraw American troops from Syria and give Turkey carte blanche control over the area under withdrawal, or the manner in which the President chose to interface with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.  He might well have been redeeming his campaign pledges but it is possible that such decisions were not in the best long-term interests of the U.S.   Some would say that the same is true for some of the President’s decisions regarding Israel, that they were what he promised but……

I am reminded of someone who approached former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a complaint that he had promised to do a number of things when he was campaigning for office but when he became Prime Minister he changed course.  Sharon looked the man squarely in the eye and said, “What you see from there is not what you see from here.”  Sharon understood that the responsibilities of a candidate are different than those which control one’s actions once in office, given that in office much more information is available for consideration prior to making decisions.

It is, of course, a sad day in the history of the world when those of us living in Israel, a country which remains so dependent for its development on a good relationship with the U.S., to be in a situation where the leadership in both countries is under legal scrutiny.

In retrospect, former U.S. President and General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best when he opined: “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”  That statement should be framed and hung on the wall of the office of every country’s leader as a guiding principle of leadership.  Would that it were so and that is admonitions were taken seriously.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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