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From the Right: The Case for Improving Leadership ‎

The fact that the upcoming 2009 Israeli election is scheduled to take place only 8 days after Groundhog Day (celebrated February 2nd) did not escape me. In the movie with the same title, a TV weatherman, during a hated assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day, finds himself repeating the same day over and over again. After indulging in all manner of hedonistic pursuits, he begins to reexamine his life and priorities. Therefore, instead of trying to make the case for my “recycled candidate” choice, I have decided to attempt conceptualizing a few of the traits that may be needed in order to form an ideal Israeli PM.

Let me first bring forth one key element that could prove conducive in promoting the type of leadership that I believe the people of Israel deserve. This major element, which may be part of a long and overdue change in the political system, deals with term limits. The US model of two terms for a maximum of 8 years is a good starting point. The current system allows former Israeli PMs to reinvent themselves and run for the highest position over and over again, not even consecutively. Once elected, they sometimes manage to govern for terms that are far beyond 4 years (by artificially dissolving the parliament and calling for new election). This is downright dangerous and stifles the rise of new leaders. As a matter of fact one may view it as a soft form of dictatorship. Rabin, Shimon Peres, and now probably Netanyahu, are prime examples. The case of former PM Shamir went even further, he served almost 6 years in his second term. However, the legendary Ben-Gurion leads all others by a long shot, he served over 13 years in office. The known truism “absolute power corrupts absolutely” should be one major impetus for considering a change.

The threats facing Israel are not going away anytime soon, so a strategist possessing qualities like the ones displayed by Barak would be a desirable trait of a PM. That is not to say that every highly decorated general qualifies to be a PM, but rather that substantial military related experience and understanding would be big plus in the foreseeable future. Incidentally, if that notion would have been adhered to, Olmert may have handled the 2006 Lebanon war differently. He also would have thought twice before nominating a totally un-experienced individual for the position of defense minister just prior to the war out of narrow and for what appears to be selfish and political reasons.

Israel’s true and only friend among the nations is America, fortunately for Israel it is also the leading (albeit temporarily weakened) superpower of the day. However, disagreements do occur among friends. When those conflicting interests arise, an Israeli PM should have the resolve to stand up to our friend across the Atlantic, just like Shamir. This former PM received high marks from Efraim HaLevy, former head of the Mossad (served under 5 PMs) as described in his highly recommended book “Man in the Shadows.” Shamir was very tough in areas he considered vital to Israel and even if the Americans did not agree, they understood him and respected his stance. In the Persian Gulf War on the other hand, Shamir figured that holding off retaliation against Iraqi Scuds was something he could give in on, as this was viewed by the Americans as vital to their own interests.

The need to lead by example should be another paramount trait of any Prime Minister, just like Ben-Gurion who lived by the words, “practice what you preach.” This should not be done as a publicity stunt or a ‘spin’ but rather as a true expression of putting the country’s well being first, one that may inspire future leaders as well. Just to put things in perspective compare Ben-Gurion’s tiny desert-house in Sde-Boker to one owned by Barak. Recently the defense minister Barak tried to sell his apartment in Tel Aviv for $11 million. For a leader of a social democratic party that seeks to speak for the working man, this is clearly a misstep.

Finally, the special relationship between Israel and the US makes it of the utmost importance that the candidate should posses a commanding control of the English language, just like Netanyahu. It is apparent that modern day conflicts and disagreements are actually won or lost in the media and by extension in the hearts and minds of the people. The various Israeli representatives struggling to explain Israel’s positions, in light of the justified and unavoidable war in Gaza, are a clear reminder of the urgent need to scale the language barrier.

So if Barak, spoke English like Bibi, cared in unselfish way about the well being of Israel and lead and lived by example like Ben-Gurion, showed that he can stand up to the US, when Israel’s interests clearly demands it, like Shamir, inspired and united the nation like Begin, and became personable like Golda, I may consider voting for him, still, for one more four-year-only-term.

An afterthought:

The Jewish Sages warn against nominating a leader who does not have some form of a Pandora Box (hopefully small…) hanging on his back, lest the leader looks down on his subjects. So far I do not believe the people of Israel run that specific risk.

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