Eitan Yudilevich

Leadership and accountability in times of crisis

In a speech discussing the renowned Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, US Senator Angus King from the State of Maine outlined ten essential components of leadership. These include vision, perseverance, team building, empathy, building trust, flexibility and creativity, thorough preparation, effective communication, optimism, and “character” encompassing integrity, honesty, and principled actions. “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters,” he quoted former US Senator Alan K. Simpson from the State of Wyoming.

During times of crisis, such as the current situation in Israel, leaders face their ultimate test. The Israeli public recognizes the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are diligently working to rebuild trust following the significant failure on October 7, 2023. The IDF leadership prioritizes transparent communication, conveying both successes and failures, with a commitment to integrity and honesty evident in public appearances.

The IDF leadership and other defense organizations acknowledged responsibility from the outset for the unexpected and deadly attack by Hamas, embracing the principle of accountability. Leaders must be accountable for their actions to establish the necessary trust essential for successfully navigating crises.

However, there is a concern about whether Israel’s political leaders share this commitment to accountability. It has been a while since an Israeli political leader demonstrated the courage and integrity required to adhere to this principle. The prevailing attitude often reduces matters to “politics,” even at the risk of undermining Israeli democracy to avoid accountability.

Shackleton’s narrative involves a pivotal decision to persist in his mission despite warnings of an unusually cold summer. His vessel, the “Endurance,” was trapped in icebergs before reaching the Antarctic continent, eventually succumbing to the pressure and requiring abandonment before sinking. Following an audacious and extraordinary two-year odyssey, Shackleton successfully brought all members of his crew back to the British homeland at the conclusion of the First World War. This remarkable achievement demanded courage, perseverance, and optimism, qualities that, coupled with the trust he had cultivated among his team, made the impossible possible. His crew believed in him and followed his lead because they recognized their leader’s sense of accountability.

Israel is currently facing a war, with daily losses in the battlefield and 129 hostages in Gaza, including sick people and children. Tens of thousands of Israelis have been displaced and are refugees in their own country from the Gaza border communities and from the north, near the border with Lebanon.

The road ahead is uncertain, but it is certain it will not be easy and will require continued sacrifices from the Israeli people. Any future actions must consider Israel’s security concerns, greatly amplified by the October 7, 2023, events.

At the same time, Palestinians have legitimate national aspirations and rights. It is hard to see how a constructive dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians can happen and be supported by both people without significant changes. The prevailing levels of mistrust and skepticism have reached unprecedented heights, posing a significant obstacle. There is almost no (Jewish) Israeli politician who will utter the words “Palestinian State.” On the other side, Palestinians from the West Bank are increasingly losing hope as of “the option of resorting to diplomacy and negotiations to end Israeli occupation” (see here), and most of them don’t support their present leadership.

In the face of profound complexity and existential risks, credible and accountable leadership becomes imperative. In Israel, the people are ready for change, which is both urgent and essential to overcome the current crisis and ensure the continued prosperity of the nation as a modern and thriving country.

About the Author
Dr. Eitan Yudilevich completed his doctoral studies in computers and systems engineering in the field of medical imaging in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He earned his Master's Degree in mathematics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in electrical engineering at Haifa's Technion. Dr. Yudilevich was appointed as the Executive Director of the BIRD Foundation on January 1, 2006 and served in this position for 17 years, until February, 28, 2023. Dr. Yudilevich is now an independent consultant .