No One Takes Responsibility For Their Actions Anymore

Categories: Letters From Leadership

Of the many stated goals of the Zionist movement, one resides firmly and deeply at its core: to take responsibility for the Jewish People. After 2000 years of survival a paradigm shift occurred with this one idea. We were no longer separated as a People, but inextricably linked together. What was happening to you and the actions you took now mattered to me, it affected me. Therefore it became part of my duty to take responsibility for you and you for me. Without this idea ringing out at the heart of Zionism, none of the accomplishments of the last 130 years could have been possible.

Fast forward to 1977. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has just resigned and handed the reins of government over to Shimon Peres; an act connected to the Likud victory in the next election. His resignation comes after the discovery of an American bank account opened in his and Leah’s, his wife, names for her use while he was Ambassador to the U.S. This was a violation of Israeli law at the time, but not a major one. In instances where this had happened an administrative penalty was levied against the violator. Yet this story ends with Rabin’s resignation – why? He believed that while it was a small error, he still had a role in the affair. His resignation was his way of saying that Leah’s actions and his were linked and that he shared a responsibility for the act and was doing what he could to fix it.

Why do I find this page out of history so interesting? Recently pieces of the report on last year’s tragic fire in the Carmel were leaked to the press. The fire took the lives of 44 people, destroyed 50000 dunams (approximately 20 square miles) of land and caused 300 million NIS (approximately 80 million USD) in damage. The report deals out quite a bit of blame, but places the bulk of it on Yuval Steinitz, Minister of Finance, and Eli Yishai, Minister of the Interior. It goes as far to call for the removal of their Cabinet portfolios, but not as far as to say they should resign (or be fired) from the Knesset. In the 24 hours that followed the report fury erupted from both camps saying that no such action will be taken by them and attacking State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and his report. Last week Lindenstrauss distributed the final report to the relevant ministries and officials. The uproar after the leaks has increased with Minister Yishai continuing to shift the blame from himself including to deceased Haifa Chief of Police Ahuva Tomer.

Now, I know that neither man was responsible for starting the fire and I know they were both handed a broken system when they took their positions. Yet I feel anger, disappointment and frustration towards them. Not because of their failure to put measures in place to ensure that the way in which the fire got out of control didn’t happen. Okay maybe some of it comes from that. These feelings come from their lack of willingness to take responsibility for their role in the escalation and tragedy of the fire. Yitzhak Rabin resigned from being Prime Minister for an act that had nothing to do with his position, was no statement against his abilities and showed no negligence on his part. Yet in that moment he did what he thought was right. At the end of the day the buck stops at Ministers Yishai and Steinitz. They were tasked with being responsible for key areas of this country’s infrastructure. While I don’t necessarily expect them to resign, I do expect them to stop passing around the blame, step up and take responsibility for what happened.

They are Cabinet Ministers in the Knesset – no less should be expected of them.

Looking back to the summer protests I believe this is what was at the heart of it. Israeli society had forgotten that the idea at the core of Zionism is to be responsible for each other. The failures in Israeli society that led to 8% (a number unsurpassed in the country’s history) of the population taking to the streets stems entirely from forgetting this one idea. We switched from caring about us and started to only care about me. At one point we all lived and breathed this idea. It hasn’t been that long since we stopped. After living through this summer’s protests I know that this reminder has been served and that people are starting to take responsibility for each other again. I hope Ministers Steinitz and Yishai, being our elected leaders, will join in this process and be the examples that we need them to be. I hope we continue to expect more of our leaders, of one another and ourselves. More importantly though, I hope our children will remember this lesson and follow in this example. It’s time to remember, it’s time to change and it’s time to act.

About Shawn Guttman

Shawn Guttman made Aliyah in 2010 and lives in an educators’ collective in Givat Olga, part of The Cooperative of Educational Collectives of Olim from Habonim Dror. He is an educator and program coordinator for Hechalutz, a cooperatively run education center for Diaspora Jews visiting Israel. Hechalutz’s staff of olim and sabras seek to make change in Israeli society using education as our tool to do so.
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