Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

In addition to my work as a business coach, one of my interests is blogging about life in Israel. This is a country full of contrasts – over eight million citizens living in an area the size of Wales. You can see snow and the lowest place on the globe in the same day. Although surrounded by geopolitical extremes, Israel has achieved a decade of high economic growth. My work brings me in contact with an array of new companies, exciting technologies and dynamic characters. Sitting back with a relaxing cup of strong tea (with milk), you realise just how much there is to appreciate in the Holyland. Large or small operations, private sector or non profit, my clients provide experiences from which others can learn and benefit.

Trust matters in a pandemic—not only trust in the scientific and medical advice the government provides but trust among citizens. Perhaps the single greatest responsibility of leaders in times of a crisis is to inspire such trust.

Dr. Michael Sandel, as cited by Dr. Robert Brooks

In a previous post, I referred to a series of articles on the 1973 Yom Kippur War. For me, the stand out item shared the reflections of two 25-or-so years old students. Miki and Gideon were not heroes in a tank or paratroopers. Their job every night was to supply food and petrol to Israeli troops, along a 15km stretch in the Golan Heights.

They were dodging the fire of both sides. No maps. No GPS. And in the morning, they would rest. Occasionally, they would wonder over to the communications tent to hear the voices, belonging to those who could not be ‘got out’ from the battle field – literally uttering their final words to a helpless wire operator.

As in many of the stories, the soldiers ignored the fear of the moment, but returned home with unforgettable pictures and sounds. Essentially, they had been happy. They remained proud of their country. You did what you had to do, because you could trust your leaders to be honest, even when their judgement was askew. (The various intelligence services shouldered the blame for the mistakes of the war).

Over the past 24 months, Israel has seen:

  • 3 general elections – all inconclusive.
  • 3 indictments issued against the Prime Minister.
  • 2 budgets that have not been prepared. There is hope that the numbers for 2020 will be approved in December – I kid you not!
  • 1,682 Covid-19 related deaths, so far.
  • 2 lockdowns, the second of which is currently in place!

With the hindsight of 72 years, Israel has coped very well with the existential threats. But, last night, Saturday night, as the first part of the Festival of Succot (Tabernacles) came to an end, the country opened up to a new reality.

On the one hand, demonstrations, which had theoretically been severely curtailed by the lockdown, took on a vast new dimension. Instead of thousands located in a couple of positions. Hundreds turned up at hundreds of separate locations. Arguably, the effect of the protest was even more telling in this new incarnation. (I have little compassion for those few idiots who broke the law and fought with the police – MH).

The common theme of the shouting: ‘Bibi go home’. Why? Your party controls the Finance Ministry, when the economy has partially collapsed. You hold the Health Ministry, whose directives lack clarity and political support. And you Mr. Prime Minister have no moral ground to remain in office, when serious charges of corruption hang over your head.

To put that last sentence in another format: Most political analysts directly ascribe the political uncertainty in the country to Bibi’s desire to cling to power. This is not just an issue of ego. By doing so, he is seen by many as trying to ensure that his trial will never commence in January 2021, as he tries to weaken the powers of the judiciary.

Also last night, in some ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods, the police were attacked. Here, the socio-religious-political dynamic is more complex. However, it boils down to a simple component. There are sections of the community that have for decades not been encouraged nor forced to adopt the core cultural fabric of the State of Israel. So why should they start now, even when 40% (and growing) of new corona sufferers are from these very areas?

Uncannily, the wilder protesters from both groupings share a major dynamic. It is the same thought echoed over the dinner table or whatsapp groups or phone calls or any opportunity, when I can communicate with others. To be blunt:

There is a total lack of trust in the Prime Minister – neither as an individual nor in his abilities nor in his immediate circle – to get things done. His political longevity had been derived from slick slogans. Today, Israel needs the actions of a credible leader. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu is not that person.

Dr. Sandel is correct! No inspiration. No trust.

Back in the early 1970s, Netanyahu was a young soldier in a crack unit. His brother was to give his life at the famous Entebbe Raid in 1976. Impressive and sad. But these historical interludes do not allow his entourage to characterise the demonstrators as anarchists. In effect, they (we) are looking for those values that got the country through the 1973 war.

The Netanyahu family does not provide those values today.

That same war led to the resignation of much of the top echelons of the political establishment. They had got it wrong. They found the guts and wisdom to accept responsibility. By 1977, their party was thrown out of power, rarely to return.

So let me leave you with the story of Geula, seen in the picture below protesting yesterday. I assume that at the age of 91, she would be flattered to be considered as a trouble-maker. Back in 1948, she was a fighter in the Yiftach Unit of the Palmach, as Arab armies attacked the newly declared State of Israel.

Geula – Protesting on 3.10.2020,

During training, she met her husband to be. He came from a family with roots in Austria and who was responsible for the initial building of much of old Tel Aviv. One of Geula’s sons, who I know, has an army record that can probably match that of Netanyahu. And he too is an active protester.

Yesterday was the 3rd October. The picture was shot around 6.00pm. The Yom Kippur war was launched at 2.00pm on 6th October 1973. How has leadership changed in Israel over 47 years?

Bibi: When the Geula’s of this world are prepared to risk their health during a pandemic and take to the streets, it is “cry out” to you! Either you prove to us what is so divine about yourself or you leave the political stage, immediately.

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