Moral Values and Leadership
Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a distinguished group of people in an intimate living room setting. There were Wexner Heritage Alumni, prominent figures in the Boston Jewish community, colleagues from the Wexner Israel Fellows Class 28 and their spouses. The intention of the gathering was to have a Fellow offer fodder for conversation and I chose to speak about aspects of Israel’s narrative, their connection to moral values and our role as leaders in Israel and beyond.
My personal narrative is a reflection of the Israeli narrative: Son of Gad and Herzelia — a German family, mostly murdered in the Holocaust, joins with an Iraqi family, which fled from the regime’s pogroms to Israel at the beginning of the 1970’s. The German part of my family made Aliya to a Haifa apartment, while the Iraqi side went to the Maabarot, tin huts made mostly for Sephardic immigrants. I was recruited at the age of 18 to the IDF and served in the Golani brigade for six years. In my last position, I was a captain in Israel’s version of West Point, leading and educating future officers. For the last 13 years I’ve been working in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Last fall’s tsunami of terror attacks raging in the streets of major cities in Israel was a trying time and displayed challenges to our moral values. In several anomalies, Israelis took the law in to their own hands and lynched innocent people who they suspected to be terrorists. This does not represent normative Israeli society — I would like to think that we draw lessons from the narrative of persecution that led so many families to Israel, and we strove to build and maintain a country based on human rights, justice and democracy. We can try to understand these lynchings from aspects of fear, social pressure or lack of security on the streets, yet as leaders we should not accept this type of behavior.
I was taught that it is always better to trim grass when it is low, as it becomes harder to control when it grows wild. I see these kinds of events as an opportunity to talk, share fears and concerns and to set the norms of expected behavior from a civil society. Closing our eyes is not an option. We should take a stand by discussing what is right and what is wrong — leaders are judged by their fierce stand during these events. Our obligation is to not be silent nor to prevent these discussions out of fear that it might harm us.
Our first Prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote a letter to my mother at the age of ten which best reflects the role of leaders in creating the set of norms and values that society should build upon to thrive.
14.10.60 Sde-Boker to Herzelia
I received your letter carrying the blessings from you and on behalf of all your schoolfriends.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart — may you grow to be excellent students, grow up for Torah, and pioneer good deeds for the country, the nation, and all humankind.
Alon Avneri, WGF Fellow (Class 28) has served in several management positions in the Prime Minister’s Office since 2003 and is currently the head of a Strategic Planning Department within the organization. He earned a degree in Government, focused on Strategy and Diplomacy, at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya. As an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces and later through his leading positions in the Prime Minister’s Office, he has been devoted to his staff and committed to the organization’s values and high professional standards. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.