Beyond recognition

Beyond recognition for the invaluable contribution that North Americans have made to Israel, it is time to facilitate and encourage their entrance into the inner sanctum of the Israeli public sphere.

An employee arranges an Israeli national flag next to a U.S. one (photo credit: REUTERS)
An employee arranges an Israeli national flag next to a U.S. one
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Casting politics aside, this week marked a milestone in the seemingly never-ending process of the expansion of the government of Israel, from a fragile majority to a slightly wider one.
Beneath and between the clamor and smoke, an important matter regarding the conduct of the security cabinet was exposed. In hindsight, the described conduct can be viewed as a microcosm of the general state of affairs in a country whose very survival depends on agility and flexibility.
At the same time, among other challenges this reality may very well preclude or hinder the development of a culture of long-term strategic planning, and of proper communication.
In fact, it is likely a huge contributor to the findings published this week by the State Comptroller in his annual report, criticizing Israeli leadership in addressing the challenges of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign specifically and responding to accusations over Israel’s alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians generally. Daily occurrences and reports are a testament to the inadequate culture of long-term thinking, planning and strategy, be it in private and public companies, the non-profit sector or local and central government.
Seemingly disconnected, this week was also the first time since the inception of Jewish American Heritage Month (in 2006, by president Bush) that it was marked in Israel. Rather than focusing on what American Jews have done for the US, this year highlighted what American Jews have contributed to Israel over the past century. In an event that took place at the Knesset, former MK Dov Lipman accurately noted the disturbing fact that so many of those that grew up in true bastions of freedom and democracy, inculcated with values of equality before the law and innate understanding of the significance of a human rights discourse, are underrepresented in the Israeli public sector.
A closer look indicates that in fact, the third and fourth sectors are inundated with those very North American immigrants to Israel, offering all available experience and resources to improving Israeli civic society.
It exposes their tremendous involvement and contribution to good governance of non-for-profit organizations; extra-curricular and informal education; philanthropic projects throughout the country and beyond. The question that beckons is why these do not translate or evolve into leadership roles in the public arena.
Among the possible explanations is the “security minded” Israeli mentality.
The numbers indicate that all newcomers to Israel have a harder time breaking into the inner sanctum of policy and decision making.
In a reality in which women (who comprise 50 percent of the population) are so visibly underrepresented in every imaginable forum, from academic conferences to the highest echelons of leadership (with the majority of those actually present coming from either a media or security background) it is a small wonder that minorities feel overlooked.
Another possible explanation is that the very insights, experience and knowledge that harbor so much potential and relevancy ironically curtail the integration of those missing North American voices into Israeli public life. Broadly speaking, an individual who embodies pluralistic, democratic values will by definition resist identifying with or creating a sectorial loyalty base, rather identifying and focusing on highest-common-denominator values and goals. Deeply respecting and trusting democratic processes, such individuals will not “skew” or “elbow” their way into public life.
These too may be contributing factors to the current reality, preventing capable, insightful, willing individuals from entering and effecting necessary change in the epicenters of the public sphere.
Among other obvious (and less obvious) unfortunate results is that the only real “values conversations” taking place in a country that so urgently needs to deliberate the many pressing issues revolves around very basic, generally and easily agreed upon issues, such as corruption. These fill the space and airtime needed for a sorely lacking deep and respectful discussion, resulting in a lack of faith and pessimistic views of values conversations in general and of the leadership specifically.
In a maturing society in which it has become essential to embark on a journey of identification of common values and aspirations, the lack of diversity among influential leadership voices, be they in politics, the media or local government, does the country a tremendous disservice.
To create a positive sense of shared vision, values and aspirations, rather than be negatively defined by external factors, it is imperative that truly wide-ranging voices enter and be encouraged to enter into the public sphere. The humility and cultural nuances that value knowing to ask questions rather than knowing all the answers must be acknowledged and respected as an imperative leadership quality. Limited diversity of voices and experience jeopardizes the pertinent discussions that require facilitation, employment of proper communication strategies and long-term planning and strategizing which transcend interests of a specific sector. These, among others, are innate abilities of the many potential leaders actively contributing to Israeli civic society.
Beyond recognition for the invaluable contribution that North Americans have made to Israel, it is time to facilitate and encourage their entrance into the inner sanctum of the Israeli public sphere.
The writer received her LL.B from Hebrew University and her LL.M. from McGill University. She currently serves as director of international external relations at IDC Herzliya and is an active board member of Tzav Pius.