Wanted: Israeli Leaders Who Understand the People

The country is run by non-Israelis who have reformed public transportation, when they haven't traveled by bus for years, they're discussing the housing shortage, when most of them live in luxury apartments.


The State of Israel is run by non-Israelis. Our political and economic leaders - and to some extent our defense leaders - are mostly people unfamiliar with the Israeli experience and the Israeli lifestyle. They are cut off. As the protest grows, we should pay attention to that. The protesters' demands are falling on deaf ears, one reason being that many decision makers have no idea what they're talking about.

They've reformed public transportation, when they haven't traveled by bus for years, and they're discussing the housing shortage, when most of them have been living in luxury apartments for years. The health system's problems are also foreign to them. When was the last time their hospital bed or that of a loved one was put in the corridor? They've read about cottage cheese prices in the newspaper, and they've heard about gasoline prices over the radio. But when was the last time they visited a supermarket, except during an election campaign?

For years they haven't stood on line, for years they haven't waited in the queue for their phone call to be answered. A car repair shop is an anthropological concept to them, as is the motor vehicle bureau. They have no problem making ends meet; most of our problems are totally unfamiliar to them.

To become a top politician in Israel is to receive a lifetime appointment, almost. They are protected and guarded, they have their own car and their own driver, and you'll never catch a leading politician with cash in his pocket. What for? They were born to rule, and they are gradually becoming divorced from average, sweaty, anxious and shortchanged Israeliness.

Under the cover of their grotesque security protection - at least two guards for each minister, including the no-names, who are recognized in the street only by their relatives and their colleagues in the ministry - they live in another Israel, the one where everything is obtained easily. From the start of their careers they are lofty figures, above the people and cut off. With a few exceptions like Amir Peretz, Shelly Yachimovich, Gideon Sa'ar - who still walks his dog down the street in Tel Aviv wearing flip-flops and shorts - or Benny Begin, who became famous for traveling by bus, nothing in most of their lives resembles the lives of most Israelis. They know Israel only from the view from their Skoda or Audi, if the curtains are open.

The economic leadership is also cut off, of course. What does the tycoon know about life in Israel? He has visited Selfridges much more often than Hamashbir Latzarchan, the Mouffetard market rather than the Carmel Market, Marks & Spencer far more often than the Mega Ba'ir supermarket. It's doubtful he's ever been to Ikea. The same is true of your typical Israel Defense Forces officer, who spends most of his life on army bases. At least during his army service he meets many Israelis, from all classes, but he too knows very little about the civilian lifestyle.

That is the nature of our Israeli leaders, who make fateful decisions about war and peace, poverty and prosperity.

It doesn't have to be that way. There are countries where the politicians, including the senior ones, continue to live an average life, connected to their country's civilian reality. A few months ago I saw Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte going out alone for an evening run near his modest home in a middle-class suburb in The Hague. The former Swedish opposition leader, Mona Sahlin, made the effort a few weeks ago to listen to a speech by an Israeli journalist at a Stockholm museum. And in Vienna I once saw the Austrian chancellor arriving at the theater like an ordinary person.

Those countries have also suffered political assassinations; still, their leaders manage to conduct a modest lifestyle, and most importantly, they're not cut off. It's not death alone that releases them from politics, as is the case here. So these VIPs can become familiar with their countries' lifestyle from up close, before and after their political careers.

The revolution that may be taking place now will have to include a change in this sphere as well. Israel needs an Israeli leadership that is familiar with Israel. Today we have a president who for decades hasn't driven his own car, a prime minister who since his army days hasn't carried a stretcher or a shopping basket, and a defense minister whose ostentatious lifestyle has already been described ad nauseam. These people cannot understand. Wanted: Israelis.