Mossad agent David Ben Uziel photographed while training South Sudanese rebels in 1969-71.
(photo credit: FROM ‘ON A MOSSAD MISSION TO SOUTH SUDAN)
When a leading economics professor, a nationally respected rabbi and one of the country’s most seasoned intelligence experts express the same concern, we should start to take notice.
Each leaders in their fields, with aggregated experience of over 100 years, each concerned that our social cohesion directly correlates to our ability as a country to face the major challenges of the day – strategic, security, economic or indeed religious. Each recently recounted to me that the lack of dialogue and ability to both agree and, perhaps more importantly, disagree in a constructive manner is the most serious threat to Israel’s long-term viability as a home for the Jewish people.
By design, Israelis of all colors and types grow up in substantially homogeneous environments. We have separate education systems for secular, religious, haredi and Arab children. Often we live in separate neighborhoods, if not separate towns and cities. Sections of the population do not participate in any form of national service.
This structural issue has created sectors of society that over decades have become politically and socially alienated from one another.
Stereotypes are formed that have been embedded as part of the dogma and ideology of each group.
Israel faces challenges like many other countries in the world. In a global economic village we have to maintain our edge through innovation and our human capital.
Within the Middle East there are many around us just waiting for a moment of weakness, and internally we need to keep striving to build a common ethos to bind society tighter together.
Whereas in more tranquil parts of the world social cohesion may not be such a key strategic element, Israel’s margin for error is much smaller, and hence our need for unity is greater.
When I spoke to Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar and former candidate for chief rabbi of Israel, he was concerned that without a broader engagement with our common Jewish heritage there will be less to hold us together. His concern was that given the trends we see, in which religion has become the course for social divide, rather than unity, young Israelis will be alienated to such a degree that those that can will leave, for Berlin, Silicon Valley or elsewhere.
In a recent conversation with Professor Eugene Kandel, CEO of Start-Up Nation Central and former head of Israel’s National Economic Council, he made clear that sustained economic growth correlates to trust. Trust is self-evidently needed when two parties transact, but at a broader level citizens need trust in institutions of state, employees need to trust employers and vice versa.
When social or cultural divides create divergent views on the fabric of these economic relationships, then our ability to maintain economic strength will ultimately be inhibited. In an intensively competitive and challenging global economy this is something we can ill afford.
During a recent briefing on the Middle East former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy made the following analysis: Israel faces complex strategic challenges. This is the nature of the neighborhood we live in. In order to meet those challenges our political leadership is required to make tough and often unpopular decisions. This is true irrespective of which side of the political map happens to hold the reins of power. The broader the consensus on these questions, the easier it is for government and the prime minister to take the big decision.
However, if at every turn, and during every debate there is public uproar with mutual acrimony and calls of “traitor,” then the leadership will have that much less latitude at the critical moment of truth. Politically it will be too controversial. This does not mean that Israeli society need to have a single voice or opinion, just the maturity to accept that elected leaders take decisions you disagree with, but do so out of a belief it is the right decision for the country.
When you are at a party and one person tells you have had too much to drink you can fob it off. If 10 do so, then you might consider going to lie down and sleep it off, even if you still think you are sober.
There are enough symptoms around us that we cannot ignore, showing us the critical importance of dealing with our internal societal challenges. We cannot afford to be like the guy at the party that keeps ignoring the increasingly obvious diagnosis, but we need to grasp that we have the responsibility to make the change.
The writer is chairman of Gesher and managing partner of Goldrock Capital.