In the new edition of our “Diversity Network” series we feature Nelly Markman. Nelly is scholarship holder in a program of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Israel. Nelly is an educator and youth counselor. For the last few years she has been head of the youth counselor department of the Israel Hebrew Scouts Movement. In her essay she describes the process of social transformation that the Israeli society has gone through and the requirements for a new culture of leadership that come along with it.
Translated from Hebrew by Nicholas Yantian
In the last years, Israeli society underwent a process of transformation. From a society consisting of a clear majority group and several minorities, it developed into a society based on a strong mixture of cultural groups, the numerical gap between them gradually narrowing. This process has numerous consequences and manifests itself in different spheres of life.
Israeli society has gone through a fascinating social process. In order to describe it briefly, I will present two important points of reference relevant to this process. The first cornerstone is the establishment of the State of Israel, Ben Gurion’s concept of “statism” and the melting pot policy implemented by him with an iron fist. In retrospect, this cornerstone played an absolutely essential role in the process. A common civil consciousness, which later would be coined “statism” [In Hebrew “mamlachtiut”], is probably one of the more important pillars in the process of state and nation-building, and it is doubtful if Israel could have accomplished so much without this cornerstone. However, some of its consequences were painful – cultures that were excluded, groups that were marginalized, and people who found themselves outside any sphere of influence. This, in consequence, gave rise to a second cornerstone in the process – identity politics. The moment Ben Gurion’s “statism” collapsed, voices, cultures, and identities previously silenced emerged.
One of the most articulate expressions of this entire process and the appearance of identity politics is the formation of a leadership representing a certain cultural group and the absence of one seeking a common ground for all groups, a sort of overriding leadership attempting to create a joint “Israeliness”, and to produce a safe space for the multitude of identities Israeli society consists of.
When examining the goal of creating a leadership bent on a common Israeliness, the following questions must be asked from the onset: Who is this kind of leader, and what are his basic features?
In order to describe a leader with these characteristics, I will first concentrate on some fundamental insights a leader aspiring to such a common Israeliness should acquire for himself and also for others:
- Identity means knowledge and as such constitutes an asset. A host of identities also entails a multitude of knowledge and enables a better and more precise view of reality.
- Each person by virtue of being human has certain natural and basic rights with which he is born. He does not obtain them from anyone, and they are indispensable. This first basic liberal claim actually encapsulates the essence of liberalism in the broadest sense according to the view of John Locke.
- And while these basic premises have derived their origins from the liberal and multicultural tradition, this third and last basic premise has its roots in the democratic tradition. According to this premise, dialogue is the foundation and the adequate way to make decisions, to shape a common space and to enable similar and different people to live together.
And now, after having made these basic assumptions, which serve as a foundation for the actions of a leader advocating a common Israeliness, I can now outline, on the basis of these assumptions, the description of a leader and formulate a model for his development.
A leader advocating a common Israeli identity is someone who respects a multicultural, liberal and democratic tradition, gives it space and regards these traditions as complimentary. In this vein, a leader advocating joint Israeliness recognizes the common potential of these three traditions to provide more precise answers to the complexity of Israeli society. Such a leader is imbued with self-awareness and a high degree of critical social and personal faculties. They enable him at every given moment to evaluate a situation and to make decisions based on multiculturalism and liberalism, causing people as little damage as possible and granting them the highest possible respect. This should be a leader who from a broad perspective – and perhaps we better use the term “bird’s eye view” – can promote a fair and respectful policy and make professional choices on the basis of facts. These are sometimes based on a multicultural way of thinking. This is the right attitude for a certain reality while in other cases the emphasis lies on liberal thought, as the damage created by other choices is too hard to bear. I will call this – for the purpose of this intellectual exercise – a practical value-oriented choice.
Such a leader should be a person who understands the complex process Israeli society has experienced. This important and necessary process included the melting pot and identity politics, and arrived at the conclusion that neither of these can provide an adequate solution. We require a leader with a new agenda, one who comprehends the presence of the two former aspects, respects them and builds a more balanced future reality, a more pacified existence where the two aspects join, thus creating a view of the world that comprises both. A leader advocating joint Israeliness also understands the significance of a common consciousness, a common story and a common ethos. He knows that the point of balance between the two traditions I described is located at a juncture where the damage caused to this ethos or common story is as small as possible.
 Statism (in Hebrew “mamlachtiut”) is a concept that advocates the centrality of the state in every aspect of public and political life [translator’s note, NY]