Mark Silberstein

Prime Manager or Prime Minister?

“The best way to make a million dollars in Israel is to arrive with two million…” While this isn’t necessarily true in today’s modern Israel, it’s the standard crack recited throughout the years when discussing business. Contrasting business in Israel versus the US also often leads to the utter fascination of America’s obsession with professional titles for every little position in the work place.

However, obsession with professional titles is precisely something that could help shed light on Israel’s current leadership.  I tend to compare most organizations to a business and the Israeli leadership is no different.  There are two often used titles to describe the head of a company: General Manager or President.  A General Manager is hired to keep the team together, execute skillfully, clarify where the company currently stands and identify existing challenges.  Essentially, a General Manager’s goal is to keep “the wheels on the bus” and everyone moving forward.  This is in stark contrast to a President of a company in one critical way: Vision.  A President of a company has a clear vision that she/he presents for everyone to see and possesses the skills to the move the entire company towards this vision.  Presidents of successful companies not only identify the current challenges, but lay out a path for the future.

In looking at Prime Minister Netanyahu, I have no doubt he is a very skilled General Manager or Prime “Manager”.  Bibi is a master at explaining the current dangers and identifying challenges. He has managed to stay in power for almost 6 years, giving the country some level of political stability versus the previous 10 years and 3 Prime Ministers.  While skillfully navigating the highly volatile world of domestic Israeli politics, Bibi managed to oversee impressive economic growth, maintained low unemployment, avoid the great recession, avert any major wars (until now) and guide the Start Up Nation.

Those accomplishments aside, I think the jury is still out on whether Bibi is a great Prime Minister versus Prime Manager.  Demonstrating a deep understanding of the dangers and challenges facing Israel should not be confused with vision or leadership. Leadership means laying out a path forward to tackle the larger pressing issues facing Israel, both internally and externally.  This path should not just lead to the next challenge but to a greater vision that the country understands.

It may be easy to confuse a great Prime Minister with a great Prime Manager.  Knowing Bibi can “manage” any conflict or issues that arise is comforting to many, myself included. In these uncertain times, I can understand the comfort of knowing we will get through the next diplomatic, economic or military challenge.  However, a Prime Minister should not just “get through” the next challenge, but rather present a clear vision of what is on the other side of each of these challenges.

If the country is always caught up in the getting through the next challenge, it is ultimately not in full control of the final destination.  What is the vision being worked towards?  What is the larger goal we are trying to reach?  I realize the answers to these questions are not easy or popular to people on the Left or the Right.  That is irrelevant.  I am not advocating for one solution over another.  Those debates are endless and valid.

Bibi must present a path forward on how to take advantage of this ill-conceived war Hamas launched and newly re-aligned regional interests and present a vision on how to solve the Palestinian problem. The dramatic changes in the Middle East are undeniable. Israel’s interests are aligned with moderate Sunni countries in the Middle East unlike any other time in the last 60 years.  This can be seen most clearly in the close strategic relationship with Egypt that did not exist 12 months ago. Even if this path is not popular on the world stage, as long as we are working towards Israel’s own vision and not one that is created in the UN with Israel’s interest being completely disregarded.  This last conflict with Hamas made it increasingly clear that no solution to the Palestinian problem may be a greater threat than any solution Israel would put forward.

The solutions to the Palestinian issue are all unappealing and contain risk. Every one of them. 10 years ago, when Gaza wasn’t overrun by Hamas, the solutions may have been slightly more palatable.  In a country filled with innovation, passion and a strong IDF there is no such thing as “no solution” to the Palestinian issue.  A solution must be found with or without the Palestinian’s consent, preferably with.  However, in todays Middle East the solutions are only getting worse and make no mistake there will be a solution found, forced or implemented on both the Palestinians and Israel.  The question is how does Israel present a bold vision to get ahead of this imposed solution and try control it.  Rather than “managing” the diplomatic crisis when it arrives via the UN or International Community, the Prime Minister should present Israel’s vision, no matter what it is. This will allow us to vigorously fight diplomatically and politically for it.  An imposed solution or isolation of Israel can have a greater cost than any solution Israel would present.

Don’t misunderstand me, I fully realize being the Prime Minister of Israel is an immense responsibility. You not only have the future of the Modern Jewish State on your shoulders, but also to some extent the weight of the entire Jewish world.  No matter what your politics, to be the Prime Minister of Israel entails forming and maintaining volatile coalitions, dealing with incredible regional threats, as well as challenges in Israeli society. Religious secular divides, rise of the Right, struggles of the Left, redrawing of the map in the Middle East, unstable neighbors, European Anti Semitism, economic gaps….just to name a few.  The job of the Prime Minister takes tremendous skill and responsibility no matter where you stand on the spectrum.

Yet, it is up to Israel to present, pursue and fight for a vision and path forward to secure herself.  One that She can control, to not only get through the next conflict, but through the next 66 years and beyond.  Bibi has proved a capable Prime Manager, but it remains to be seen if he will go down as a great Prime Minister.

About the Author
Mark Silberstein was born in Cape Town, South Africa and currently resides in Zichron Ya'acov, Israel . He studied at Tel Aviv University and worked as a Public Relations Director at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles 1999/2000.