By Dr. Ron Weiser
Leadership comes in various forms.
Just over a week ago saw the Zionist Federation of Australia’s 10th Biennial Jewish Educators’ Conference. Hundreds of participants gathered for a unique event in the Jewish world.
Back in 1997 when it was conceived and then first held in 1998 there was no such conference anywhere in the world covering the wide gamut of Jewish education, which had been initiated and run by a Zionist roof body.
And so it has continued. And there is still nothing like it anywhere else.
Aside from the excellence of the conference itself, each and every one of the overseas contingent remarked upon this unique fact.
This is a tribute to the Zionist nature of our community and the leadership of the Zionist Federation.
Keynote speaker was Rabbi Dov Lipman who was a member of Yesh Atid in the last Knesset and is currently in charge of public diplomacy at the World Zionist Organisation.
Rav Lipman, aside from being one of the most personable and erudite guests, demonstrated a leadership style that began as a grass roots activist and focused on an inclusive approach to largely deal with Israel’s internal issues.
His various appearances took me last shabbat to a number of different shuls and I was struck this week by a fellow congregant complaining about the Israeli political system and the instability he claimed it produces.
This is a common refrain but seems rather odd coming from anyone in Australia, where strange as it may sound, we live with much more parliamentary instability than in Israel.
I have written about it before but it’s worth refreshing our memory on this as we have seen yet another election in Australia.
Israel has had the same continuous Prime Minister for over 7 years, has no single person parties or independents, the smallest party in the Knesset has 5 seats and there is no clear or visible challenger for the prime ministership in sight.
It seems ridiculous but in Australia, over the same period, we have had 5 different Prime Ministers (one twice) and an instability in either or both the leadership and the Senate. Nothing of which seems to have changed much in the most recent election.
Once people are reminded of this, they move on to “well here it doesn’t matter nearly as much”, or something similar to that. And then to the problem as they see it, that Prime Minister Netanyahu can’t take actions he would like to because of the electoral system.
Although Israel’s electoral system can do with quite some improvement, this is somewhat of a cop out.
Whether Netanyahu does or does not do something is really more a matter of his own leadership judgement call and style.
Whilst the coalition process leads to some constraints, the real issue is that Netanyahu himself is less decisive than some others might be, or some think him to be.
Now that is not necessarily a bad trait in a leader when rash action may lead to consequences not properly thought out. On the other hand being too hesitant in taking initiatives may also have negative consequences.
In any case, my point is that Israel’s political system should not be the primary target for people who think Israel is constrained from doing one thing or another.
Since the election in March last year Netanyahu has been holding a number of ministerial portfolios for himself in the hope of enticing Herzog and Labour into government.
The mere fact that he has been able to do so over the objections of others about his ability to devote the proper time and effort to these important portfolios, that is to simply govern effectively, shows the authority that the Prime Minister actually does have.
Moreover he does so over the objections of his own party and coalition members who jealously seek these ministerships
This puts the lie to the claim that he can’t make decisions because of his coalition in those times when he is actually willing to exercise his authority.
Netanyahu has now decided that the chances of Herzog joining the government are extremely low and he has finally given out all but one of the additional portfolios he had retained.
He still remains both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman sees himself as a future successor to Netanyahu. Whether the electorate agrees with him or not is another matter.
But what Lieberman has identified as Netanyahu’s achilles heel, is his well recognised history of preferring a cautious approach over an activist one.
So Lieberman sees his comparative advantage in putting his own leadership style forward by being the can do/will do “Mr Decisive”.
Now some will see this as a good thing and others, not so much.
Clearly Israeli policy has changed and Lieberman has done it, at least for the moment.
Here are but two examples.
Lieberman has announced a reward and punishment process vis a vis West Bank villages.
One West Bank village from which no terrorists have come has been waiting 3 years for IDF permission to build a soccer field. A single visit by Lieberman since he became Defence Minister less than 3 months ago, permission granted.
When it comes to Gaza, the norm has been – a rocket comes over from Gaza and as long as it causes no deaths or injuries, Israel fires a rocket back into an empty field or on an empty building.
On August 21st a rocket was fired from Gaza into Sderot. This was by the way the 14th rocket fired at Israel from Gaza in 2016 and the first since Lieberman settled into the Defence Ministry.
The response from Israel was dramatically different this time. Utilising the airforce, drones and tanks Israel struck 50 targets in Gaza.
There is indeed a new policy under Lieberman.
Now many will applaud Israel finally taking a greater defensive and deterrent stance.
Others will ask us to wait and see how this changes the enemy’s appetite to test Israel again.
Lieberman’s fate and popularity in Israel remains in many ways, in Hamas’ hands.
In the United States there is another leadership race going on.
I have no idea who will be better for Israel, Clinton or Trump.
What I do know is that as we all understand, the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama was not always the best it could be. Neither would nominate the other for any awards and each has got under the skin of the other time and time again. One could not describe their personal chemistry as friendly or trusting.
And yet what is actually happening is that Netanyahu is pushing forward to negotiate the next 10 year US aid package to Israel with President Obama. I repeat, with President Obama.
Preferring to do so rather than waiting on the uncertainty of negotiating with either a future President Clinton or Trump.
That should tell us something as to how Netanyahu judges Israel’s chances with the potential new leaders when it comes to one of the most important decisions that will affect Israel well into the future.
Many challenges lie ahead, identifying the appropriate leadership for the circumstances is the key.
Dr Ron Weiser AM
Dr. Ron Weiser is the Zionist Federation of Australia Public Affairs Chairman and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.