Grassroots Leadership Crisis in Israeli Democracy

Recently I have been informed and/or been involved in three events. Each event is very different from the others, but there is a surprising and alarming common denominator among those events.

  • Eli Moyal, mayor of Sderot, told, in an interview publicized in Ma’ariv’s “Sofshavua” (Weekend) dated 16 Dec 2005, why he abolished the open door policy, which is the norm among mayors of Israeli development towns (which have lower average socioeconomic levels). He found that 99% of the people, who came to see him, came for three purposes: discount on the municipal tax (“arnona”) due from them, getting a job, and getting an apartment. He did not have the authority to grant any of those requests.
  • During the weeks before and during the General Assembly of Hamakor, it was evident that several people did not understand the proper roles of the governing board and the comptrollers. Some people wanted the governing board to take active role promoting various activities.

    They did not understand that Hamakor was originally founded in order to provide accounting and legal framework to people (“projectors”), who want to push their own Free Software related projects. The board itself should concern itself only with finding, nurturing and helping those projectors.

    Some of them even made proposals, which required enlarging the group of Hamakor officials, without ensuring first that there are enough volunteers to fill all the positions they proposed to create.

  • Today there was a dedication ceremony for the new Israeli Sign Language dictionary in a high school in Yahud. I attended the event and noticed that Deaf persons themselves did not lead the project or the ceremony. The dictionary was created by two hearing women (however one of them is CODA – child of deaf adults – and her mother tongue is Israeli Sign Language). All political speeches during the ceremony were by hearing persons. They at least took a Deaf woman to explain the audience how to use the dictionary software, and the concluding art program was by Deaf artists (drummers and dancers).

    If I compare this to the situation few years ago, when the Association of the Deaf in Israel (a wholly Deaf-run organization) led the fight for rights of the Deaf – I conclude that the Deaf community abdicated its leadership position. I believe that this was because of some poor decisions and infighting by some leaders of the Deaf community.

The common denominator I see among those events is the fact that training in the practices of leadership and democracy is not sufficiently ingrained in Israeli formal and informal educational establishments.

People do not understand that they should bother their mayors about waste disposal, traffic jams, schools and city planning rather than about their personal financial woes. Then they get corrupt mayors, who get elected because they obtain and give handouts to a group of supporters. For example, in Yeruham, there was a very good mayor. However he was ousted in elections because his electorate did not understand the proper division of responsibilities. The guy who replaced him botched his job, and now Yeruham is managed by an appointed committee, led by Amram Mitzna.

Discussions in Hamakor and several other nonprofits are full of comments by people, who are not familiar with the relevant Israeli law and expect the nonprofit leaders to accomplish miracles. People are not aware that if they want something to happen, they should move their asses and do something. They can only expect the organizations not to interfere with their endeavors (if the endeavors have worthy goals), and only sometimes to provide some help. But they themselves must be the movers and shakers.

The general situation in Israel has implications on the situation in the Deaf community. The Deaf community now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of being led by non-Deaf people, benevolent as they may be. The root cause for this sorry situation is lack of grassroots understanding of the political process and the responsibilities of each participant in the political process.

Author: Omer Zak

I am deaf since birth. I played with big computers which eat punched cards and spew out printouts since age 12. Ever since they became available, I work and play with desktop size computers which eat keyboard keypresses and spew out display pixels. Among other things, I developed software which helped the deaf in Israel use the telephone network, by means of home computers equipped with modems. Several years later, I developed Hebrew localizations for some cellular phones, which helped the deaf in Israel utilize the cellular phone networks. I am interested in entrepreneurship, Science Fiction and making the world more accessible to people with disabilities.