Ariel Beery
Dedicated to solving problems facing humanity with sustainable and scalable solutions

Israel doesn’t (only) need leaders

Theodor Herzl on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland, 1897. (CC-PD-Mark, by Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)

Why low turnout in local elections demands that those who care about Israel need to invest in the capacity to envision a better future

The results of Israel’s municipal elections should worry anyone who cares about Israel’s democracy. Not in the people or parties chosen, but rather in the abysmal turn-out by a citizenry that has been engulfed by a political dumpster fire since January 4, 2023. One would assume that ten months of weekly protests, followed by nearly five months of abject failure of the current leadership, would have motivated every citizen to vote. Yet nearly half of Israel’s eligible citizens stayed home.

The explanation given by much of the media is that Israel is, obviously, at war. Don’t buy it. Yes, there are families grieving. Few Israelis have been left unscarred by the horrific violence of October 7 and the war we wage to return our kidnapped loved ones and end the governmental entity sworn to cleanse us from our land. But that does not explain why the polling stations, open from 7:00 to 22:00, were half empty. Instead, the explanation I believe is that most of Israel’s citizens simply do not believe their vote matters.

This lack of faith in Israel’s system of government should trouble everyone. Any candidate chosen in a vote cast by only half of the electorate cannot truly represent the citizenry they serve. The vote numbers signal a deep rot in Israeli politics and the internal legitimacy of the state. This signal should trouble all of us involved in civic action and charitable giving, since it indicates a further detachment of the people who need the public from their feeling that they can depend on public institutions. Forget agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state – Israelis can’t even agree on the basics of how an Israeli state could function.

I believe that, paradoxically, one of the reasons voter turnout has fallen is civil society’s obsession with finding “good leaders” to replace the bad. This partisan focus has made us myopically focused on the short term, and precluded investment in developing visions needed to inspire organizers to craft political platforms to win back the faith of Israelis. The constant refrain I hear from people is that we “need more good people to go into politics,” without asking what those leaders will do or imagining the new reality they could create.

To be clear, we do need new and better leaders. A large part of the current batch of members of Knesset is rotten. But it is only half right: we had great people in politics and many left because the system itself is what causes the rot and they didn’t have buy in to change the system. In time, in a rotting system, there can be no good apples. And why would you go to vote if you believe that no good apples exist? Without a vision for how the system can work better – without a vision for how Israel’s reality can be sustainably better, more prosperous, more resilient why would good people go into politics and sacrifice years of their lives for an unclear cause?

At present, at best we seek a self-selecting group of people to offer themselves up as candidates to turn this trend around. Some will be excellent. Others, however, prove the point that there is an unfortunate correlation between the self-confidence a person requires to run for office and the arrogance that leads to corruption. Without visions to fight for, too many of those self-selecting to go into politics end up making decisions in their personal interest as opposed to asking how they are advancing a vision through their work.

So the best way to succeed in our quest for good leaders is, as Franklin Covey might have advised, to sharpen our saw: to develop a vision that will cut through the current bramble of special interests and sectarian pressures that determine political outcomes and arm the public with new, positive visions for how our communities, our cities, our regions, our state and its institutions can build prosperity and ensure resilience so that the horrors of 2023 never happen again.

There was a time where the Zionist movement knew how to develop visionaries: countless journals, discussion groups, debates about the future and what it could look like if only we organized, if only we pioneered. Those visions inspired movements. Despite great think tanks and policy institutes, Israel’s current political climate lacks serious strategic discussion. They think at most 18 months, one government ahead. The only long-term visions competing for hearts and minds are the twin messianisms of the settler and anti-Zionist movements. Because of this, our political campaigns do not have substantial debates, actual policy discussion. The diaspora, too, lacks a sense of its future. How it connects with Israel in this newly anti-Zionist reality. We are both adrift. Without a dream, no application of will can lead us to a better world.

Which is why, in addition to better leaders, we need to reawaken vision. We need to invest in frameworks to gather visions, express them, spread them. Vision for how our community institutions can enhance our wellbeing, how our regions can ensure our prosperity, how our state can strengthen resilience. Vision for how our people, still dispersed, can work together to create the practical wisdom needed by humanity to fix a world increasingly threatened by climate change and the already present impact of artificial intelligence. Yes, by all means, let us scout and raise the next generation of leaders. Yes, let us build new political consciousness among Israelis in their geographic communities. Yet let us not forget that those leaders need a north star to direct them, and an inspired people to lead.

About the Author
Ariel Beery is a strategist and institution builder dedicated to building a better future for Israel, the Jewish People, and humanity. His geopolitical writings - with deeper dives into the topics addressed in singular columns - can be found on his substack, A Lighthouse.
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