A report on my visits to Israel, Monte Negro, Slovenia and Mexico, August, September 2006
by Dr. Ichak Adizes
Sitting in the United States, watching the war in Lebanon on CNN, I seriously feared for the safety of Israel. I have written about it before: What chance does Israel have, surrounded by millions of Arabs and many more millions of Moslems whose rejection of Israel is not a secret and whose hate for the Jews is a formal policy. The Arabs can afford to lose many wars; Israel cannot lose even one, because that one would be its last.
I worry that one of these days, those suicide bombers will be carrying not dynamite but a tactical nuclear device, with which they could kill more in one day than they could previously kill and maim in a year. Who supports Israel beyond the United States? What will happen if supporting Israel becomes a political liability for the President of the United States? Can Israel survive surrounded by hate and without global support?
That Israel should survive and why, I have written in previous Insights: the Jewish people, who have been killed and gassed and burned alive for thousands of years, need a safe house. You might even say they are an endangered species. Why protect the whales and not the Jews? Are they not an asset to humanity? Look at their contributions to all fields of knowledge.
But is Israel safe for the Jews, or does it provide a false sense of security: six million Jews grouped together like sitting ducks, an easy target for the nuclear holocaust that the President of Iran has promised to make happen?
While visiting Israel this month on a lecture tour, I received some insights that I would like to share with you.
I once heard a story, which may or may not be true, but it makes the point: Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, was asked what Israel would do if there were to be another Flood, and all of the earth were covered with water? Her response was: “We would learn to live under water.”
This capability of the Jewish people to adapt, even to the worst conditions, has been validated once again during the war in Lebanon. When the Katyusha rockets began falling at the beginning of the war, the bombarded Jewish population ran for cover, but within a week they had learned to live with the rockets and sirens. Life almost returned to normal. People moved their work to the shelters, and office work continued. In Tel Aviv, which was not in the range of the missiles but not too far away either – 60 miles at most – people went through their daily routines as if there were no war. The restaurants were full, and night-life went on.
I remember sitting in a cab some years ago, driving to a shopping mall to buy a shirt. The radio announced a suicide explosion that took some lives, and it had happened about ten miles from where we were. The driver calmly continued driving and the mall was filled with shopping people, as if nothing had happened. When I asked the driver how he felt, he said, “What can you do? That is life.”
During the Lebanon war, I was watching an Israeli TV channel dedicated to community singing. The opening song, which also closed the program, was: “We will not stop singing (No matter what , davka) ” (Lo nafsik lashir), and people sang throughout the program even though the broadcast news reported continuously on the war.
During the thousands of years of living under the risk of annihilation, the Jewish people have learned to accept the continual threats and to live their lives nevertheless – as if such an existence were a normal occurrence. Have you seen Israelis tearing their hair, screaming and marching through the streets with flags calling for revenge, like the Arabs do after a bombing? You have seen them on television or in newspaper photos crying quietly, sobbing in the cemetery for their loved ones – and it stops there. Life goes on.
I believe that the Jewish people are indestructible. No one has managed to destroy them, although in every generation someone tries – and tries hard. If even one Jew survives, the Jewish people survive. They will do whatever it takes to “live even under water.” Life goes on.
Israel is the size of New Jersey. What most people do not know, I think, is that Israel is 63 percent desert. What did the Jews do with this desert? They made it bloom. Go see for yourself: in the former desert, they grow flowers and melons and vegetables and export them to Europe in the middle of the winter, using the morning dew for irrigation.
The strength of the Jewish people is their ability to adapt to any environment
How? My insight is that they adapt because they have an enormous ability and thirst to learn. If anything defines the Jewish culture it is this insatiable thirst for learning.
Jewish people have small families and they invest in their children. Education, lifetime learning, is a cornerstone of Jewish existence. And where does this thirst for learning come from? From never taking anything for granted. From having an endless curiosity, always wanting to know: Why? If you analyze any profession you will find that the Jews end up somewhere at the top. Why? Because they never accept anything as a given, and as they challenge the status quo, they end up leading change.
I can always identify the Jewish people in my lectures. They are the ones who give me most of the trouble. They raise their hands first. They never accept my explanations without challenging them. They sure are a pain in the butt, and many anti-Semites hate the Jews because of this trait. Jews don’t follow the line. They are pushy and critical and demanding.
And as is true for many phenomena, what is an asset can also be a big liability.
Israel might destroy itself all by itself. This trait of searching endlessly for the ultimate truth, for always challenging, makes Israelis the most self- critical country I know. They criticize each other to the point of being destructive: In Israel no one is good enough. There is nobody who is above serious criticism and doubt.
Take the war in Lebanon. On every channel, the television is broadcasting interviews with anyone who is willing to talk, which means just about everybody, because willingness to talk and be heard is not a rare characteristic among Jews. And every Israeli has an opinion about how the war was conducted, versus how it should have been conducted. The Prime Minister is appointing a committee to investigate who is to blame for what they believe was a failure to win the war. (Israel did not lose the war, mind you. Not winning it is terrible enough to call for a national investigation committee.) Israel is in the midst of a witch-hunt.
The public criticism, which has been blown beyond justifiable proportions, is destroying any trust in any leadership: political, military, or even social. Nobody is being spared. No one is beyond being accused of being incompetent. And as respect and trust diminish, the willingness of people to fight decreases, and Israel is becoming weaker and weaker.
In other words, the big strength of the Jewish culture – never taking anything for granted, being critical and obsessively dedicated to finding the truth – is becoming a liability. The Israeli conduct during the war, apologizing for civilian casualties, was picked up by the world media. Hezbollah, which deliberately aimed its rockets at civilian targets, did not apologize at all. So to the world, Israel looks like the guilty party and Hezbollah, which started the war and has publicly declared its goal of destroying Israel altogether, is not condemned by the world community. Israeli PR stinks: they wash their laundry in public even if it is not dirty.
What a country!!!! One would expect that real estate prices would drop: there is a war, no? There is always the risk that some crazy suicide bomber will explode a device next door. But what is happening? Just the opposite. While the war was going on, the price of real estate was going up and so was the stock market. The price per square foot of real estate in Tel Aviv is now comparable to the price in Manhattan.
Israel leads in patents. It has more worldwide patents than several leading industrial countries put together. It is dominant, globally, in many industries: Internet security, telephone billing systems, horticulture, drip irrigation, and branded patented vegetables and fruits, just to mention some. And all of it while a continuous war is going on.
What a country!!! What a people!!! Israel is always in danger, but when you are in Israel, you don’t feel it. Life goes on. And to tell you the truth, I do not know if this is good or bad. On one hand, it is good, because how otherwise could Israel survive the endless pressure and threat of annihilation? But on the other hand, Israel might be like the frog in a pot, adapting to the increasing heat until eventually the water is boiling and there is a serious threat to its survival.
Here is what I wrote to my wife: “I found the most beautiful country in the world” (and I have worked and lectured in fifty-one so far). “It has the fjords of Norway, the warm water of Hawaii to swim in, the little romantic villages of Greece, the clean air of Switzerland and fresh, fresh fruits and vegetables and grilled fish right out of the sea.” And guess what? It is about two hours from Frankfurt and an hour from Rome by air. It is in the center of Europe. Unspoiled.
How come we never hear about this country? Because it was part of Serbia, and Serbia has been ostracized by the world community for dozens of years.
Six months ago there was a referendum on the issue of whether to separate from the Serbian federation, and by a very small margin, the vote was for separation. Why the small margin? Because a large portion of the population is Serb. Why the vote to separate? I was told that Montenegrans were tired of being subservient to Belgrade. Everything needed permission from Belgrade. They wanted to have their own fate in their own hands.
Montenegro does not have its own currency. The currency used in the market is the Euro. The new constitution has a paragraph declaring that Montenegro is and will be an ecological state – which means no pollution of water, air or land, and their agriculture will remain organic.
And guess what? Money is pouring in, especially from Russia. They are buying everything in sight. Hotels are being built everywhere. Roads are getting clogged. I met with both the President and the Prime Minister. They asked me what I think they should do. I told them what they should not do because giving advice on what to do requires more know-how than I had. They should not encourage investments too fast, I said, to avoid the fate of Acapulco and soon Cancun, where over-expansion destroyed the natural beauty of the place. “Your roads are already clogged,” I said. “So what will you do? Expand them? How? You will need about ten lanes, like in Los Angeles, to accommodate all the tourism you are encouraging. And would even that stop the bumper to bumper traffic?”
I was right in giving my warning. The highway from Slovenia to Croatia is so crowded with tourists already that there are reports of road rage and people stuck on highways for hours trying to get to their vacation spot. “You will destroy this beautiful country in no time. Your problem is not how to encourage investments but how to discourage the bad investments. For that, Montenegro needs to have a conceptual plan that outlines what it wants to be.”
Anyway, apparently I made sense, because I was invited to do a Syndag and a mission plan for the country in December of this year, with the President, the Prime Minister and all members of the cabinet plus the rector of the university and the chairman of the central bank.
Will see what happens and I ‘ll report to you the results if possible.
There is a joke in Slovenia that the former President decided to scare the United States and sent a missile to destroy New York. The reports were that there was lots of destruction but no response from the United States.
So he sent another missile, this time aimed at Washington. Destruction was reported, but again there was no response. He tried the third time against Los Angeles. Again no response. Annoyed, he called Clinton, who was the President of the United States at that time, and asked him: “How come you are not reacting?” And Clinton said, “I am going to severely punish you as soon as I find you on the map…”
It is a small country. It used to be part of Yugoslavia, but in 1991 it separated. It is south of Austria, east of Italy, and north of Croatia. It is beautiful: mountains, lakes, clean little villages like those in Austria. It is well managed: No corruption. No mafia managing the country from behind the scenes as is the case in many countries in transition.
Interestingly, in a survey where people were asked whether they felt better off or worse after splitting from the Yugoslav federation, the response was a surprise. The majority felt they were better off during the federation. Many have good memories of the Yugoslav federation. Yugoslavia meant something on the world scene. People felt proud to be Yugoslavs. It is interesting how important the emotional context is – far stronger and more important than the material economic context. I think the same is true for Bosnia and even Macedonia. Many now lament the split of the federation. Of course, there is no chance of turning back the wheels of history.
As each former republic of Yugoslavia joins the European community, the borders will become meaningless economically, as they will all be part of one economic market. In one sense, they will be together again – but the pride, the identity of Yugoslavia is lost forever.
The current President of Slovenia, who suffered from cancer and apparently survived it, has had a spiritual awakening and sees himself as responsible not only for Slovenia but for humanity in general; he is trying to play a role in the Middle East and to help stop the genocide in Darfur. This is not a PR ploy; as he recovered from cancer, his orientation really became more spiritual.
Hmmmmm. Maybe a condition for electing any politician should be that they have survived some serious, life-threatening disease. Maybe then they could be trusted?
I gave a week-long seminar about the Adizes methodology to deans and professors from all over Europe, starting with Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and even Kazakhstan. It took place at the Center for Management Education, or IDEC, in Bled Slovenia, where the student body comes from all over the world and so does the faculty. Very exciting.
When Vicente Fox was elected President six years ago, I did some work with him during the transition period. I organized Los Pinos, which is the equivalent of the White House in the United States, and organized the executive branch along the (PAEI) model.
It is not a secret, so I can reveal that Vicente Fox came to power through direct elections by the people. His own party did not fully support him and he had no control of the Parliament, either. Just to show you how weak he was from the first day in office, when he flew to visit one Latin American country, the chairman of his own party, PAN, refused to fly with him on the presidential plane and flew separately.
Vicente Fox was a lame duck from the first day as President. But he also contributed to his own weakness. When I asked him what his main agenda was, he answered that it was to democratize the presidency, which till then had been very “imperial”: the President was all-powerful, even appointing his own successor, so elections were more a ritual than anything substantive. So, Fox did not have the votes in the Parliament to start with, and because of his agenda he did not work on strengthening his position, either. As a result, he could not lead. I told him that he was repeating Gorbachov’s mistake. I wrote an analysis for Gorbachov back when he was “Man of the Year” on the cover of Time magazine. In that paper, I pointed out to him that his methods in changing the Soviet system were incorrectly applied. Perestroika (economic, political and social restructuring) requires political strength. Glasnost ( political openness) weakens political power. Since economic restructuring requires political strength , he should have started with perestroika and than slowly followed it with glasnost, the way the Chinese are doing now, rather than starting with glasnost, losing power and thus being unable to deliver the perestroika. He will lose his power, I predicted, and the system will collapse, as it did.
I do not think Gorbachev ever read my paper although I sent it through his economic advisor. In the case of Vicente Fox, I told him during our dinner attended just by the two of us that he should not fight the “imperial” presidency because he would need that power to run the country. For whatever reason, he did not follow that advice. Thus he remained politically weak during his whole presidency.
Now, with the new elections, his weakness is actually embarrassing. Calderon, from his own party, was elected but by an extremely small margin. The contender, Lopez Obrador, is contesting the election, even though the electoral college has recounted some disputed stations and announced Calderon as the winner, Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is called for short, is challenging not only Calderon, the new president soon to be inaugurated, but also Vicente Fox, the sitting President. Can you imagine? Fox could not even deliver his State of the Union speech at Parliament, because Parliament members of AMLO’s party took over the podium and prevented the President from speaking. On Mexico’s Independence Day, it is customary and has been customary for many, many years, for the President to kick off the celebrations by shouting “El Grito,” the shout for independence, recalling the grito that started the revolution. It is done from a particular balcony overlooking the main square in Mexico City – the Zocalo. Well, not this year. AMLO’s supporters blocked the square, and President Fox had to move his grito to another balcony in another city.
I mean, this is more than embarrassing.
AMLO refuses to recognize the validity of the elections, and is announcing an alternative presidency; his people “elected” him as President by raising their hands during a manifestation. He is planning mass disobedience, which might mean refusing to pay taxes, blocking main transportation arteries, etc. And Fox is doing nothing. He is still the President, but a very, very weak one. And Calderon will have difficulty doing anything either, because fifty percent of the population voted for AMLO. What would you do if you were in his place?