Leadership Rising Up

Leadership Rising Up:
visions for the future
by Shirlee Harel

The young generation in Israel has spoken. For too long, young Israelis returned from their post-army travels with a sense of indifference and complacency. Recent outbursts of public protests around Israel have created an opportunity for a new generation to discover their voice, and many have taken to the challenge. There is a sense of pride and arousal on the streets throughout Israel, with protestors demanding from their leaders social justice and a new approach to leadership. All the faces of Israeli society have joined the protests. However, it is the young generation that has taken the leading role and is recognizing the importance of planning for the future and demanding long-term change. These protests are doing more for the Israeli public than seeking the changes vocalized; this movement has given the young generation in Israel a sense of purpose and connectivity.

Public protests across Israel calling for economic and social reform have brought the young generation to ask: “If not now, when?” While experiencing an unexpected epiphany, they are ready to act as a unifying force and venture on a journey of a social revolution and self-assessment. The sheer act of protest is encouraging young protestors to prioritize their own values and to think concretely about their vision for the State of Israel.

Talia Gorodess and Gil Murciano co-founded the protest tent site at Kikar HaMedina, Tel-Aviv’s largest open city square. By day, Gorodess, 28, and Murciano, 31, work at the Reut Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan strategy group based in Tel Aviv. Gorodess heads a taskforce that deals with the relationship between Israel and the Jewish world, and Murciano is a member of Israel’s National Security team. By night, Gorodess and Murciano led dozens of open-dialogue discussions around socioeconomic issues in Israel and joined the leadership team of the protests.

“Walking around Rothschild Boulevard during the first week of the revolution, I felt both inspired and worried at the same time. I knew that this ‘Woodstock’ wouldn’t last forever, and in any case couldn’t bring about real change in socio-economic priorities in Israel,” Gorodess describes. “That’s when I decided to start a new camp. The purpose would be to bring people who would think together, on the ground, about practical ways that would allow some of our demands to be met in the short term and in the long term, start a new democratic movement that would bring real change to Israel, change the government’s priorities, and for the first time hold our elected representatives accountable for their actions – so that we don’t have to bring our living rooms to the squares next time something goes wrong.”

The innovative and accessible outlook of the young protestors allows for an open flow of dialogue. Gorodess describes, “We may not be experts, but we know what we want – and we know how to work with both professors and activists in order to get it.”

The Israeli government assigned a taskforce, to be led by Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, former chairmen of the National Economic Council, to engage the public and recommend changes to the government in both outlook and policies. Gorodess describes the excitement of presenting in front of the committee for socio-economic change, chaired by Trajtenberg, “proving it is possible to change the rules of the game while staying pragmatic and not boycotting anyone.” These young people are examples of how leaders are using their personal skills to motivate others and galvanize reform.

“There is a question to be asked about what role a national security analyst plays in social-economic protest. What I brought to the protest was my feeling that ‘social’ issues and ‘economic’ issues are interlinked,” Murciano explains. “It was also the feeling that the mutual unwritten contract between citizens of Israel and their country has been severely damaged. A country that asks its 18-year-olds to defend and even sacrifice their lives should not and cannot threaten them later as simple pawns or statistic numbers in an imaginary supply and demand equation.”

Murciano describes, “For a very long time I walked around with the feeling that there is something very wrong about the way that the Israeli society behaves – there is a paralyzing feeling of cynicism – a tendency to see any form of civil gathering as futile or even juvenile. In an era of civil stagnation and subliminal marketing, I wanted a taste of the old Israel. Personally, I think this round of civil protests is a lot about preserving the innocence of a society, the one that existed way before the era of tycoons, start-ups, and foreign investors. For me the struggle is not to go back to the past; rather it’s about tilting back the balance we had in those days and creating hope for the future.”

Murciano explains that connecting to people was something he craved. “There is something to be said about human interaction that is what makes it all worth it even if we won’t achieve many of our goals. In a way, I feel like I have rediscovered Israel. Starting from the coffee shop owner who paved our camp with sweets and cold coffee for Shabbat to people like Amnon, 80 years old, who participated in four wars – the fact that only a fraction of all Israelis do miluim (reserve duty) brings him close to tears. I guess that in the end it is all about the people.”

This leadership movement embraces civil empowerment and lays out a systematic solution for all Israeli residents to partake in the economic growth and benefit of accumulating and materializing capital. Effective leadership is needed to make Israel’s national protests constructive, and young people are stepping forward and offering their generation a hopeful vision for the future.

Shirlee Harel is the Director of Development at the Reut Institute, Tel Aviv, Israel.

This post is from the just-released PresenTense leadership issue; you can also subscribe to PresenTense Magazine and receive this, and future issues, delivered directly to you.