As the old guard fades with time and a new generation of leaders emerges, some Israelis—their confidence shaken in the aftermath of the Lebanon war—are beginning to wonder about the future of their government.
The mostly East European immigrants who brought Israel into being are steadily ceding power to a more ethnically and ideologically diverse generation raised here. Now the uncertain aftermath of the first war to be managed by a prime minister from outside Israel’s founding generation—Ehud Olmert, a 60-year-old lawyer elected this year—has sharpened debate over whether the best of the new generation are entering public life.
“How have we left our leadership to such mediocre people?” said Eliad Shraga, 46, head of the nonpartisan Movement for Quality Government in Israel who staged a nearly three-week hunger strike outside Olmert’s office after returning from reserve duty in the Lebanon war. “We are asking ourselves how this has happened to us.”
Olmert and others of his political generation embody a leadership shift that highlights the Jewish state’s changing values and demographics.
Israel’s original socialist character has evolved into a more free-market economy and less centralized government. The private sector and town councils are turning into training grounds for new political leaders, who once emerged largely from the labor movement, the kibbutz collective-farm enterprise and the military. There are more former mayors than generals in Olmert’s cabinet, which also includes ministers from university faculties and the secret services.