One of the great challenges of leadership is deciding what is important. You might have a great idea or policy for a particular problem, but if it is not a high priority for the people you lead, it may cause you to ignore the pressing issues of the day. A leader cannot do everything – he or she must pick areas to focus on. In both America and Israel, governments are struggling with the political implications of this challenge.
Here in the United States, as we approach Independence Day, the federal government is deploying a new task force to protect monuments in the face of protests calling for the removal of statues that some find offensive. While protecting federal property from vandalism and defacement is certainly within the scope of the Department of Homeland Security, some have pointed out an imbalance of priorities. The White House seems focused on protests while ignoring the spike in coronavirus cases throughout the country.
Political leaders devote time and energy to the things they think will give them the most return on investment. The president seems convinced that his supporters will be happy to see him fighting against the removal of statues, and he is probably right. It is much harder to tackle a difficult and complex problem like the recent resurgence in COVID-19.
Similarly, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been focused on annexation, or the extension of Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank. Unlike the US president, however, he needs the consent of his partner in government, Benny Gantz, who comes from a rival political party. While Gantz supports annexation in theory, he seems unprepared to go forward without a full endorsement from the US and other allies.
Just like in America, some in Israel have reacted to Netanyahu’s plan by criticizing his priorities. Israel, which had been considered a coronavirus success story, has also seen an increase in cases, rivaling the peak of March and April. Just like in America, the economy is in deep trouble. Is this really the moment to focus on annexation, as people are hurting? One man, hard hit by the economic hit from lockdowns pleaded on Israeli TV: “Annex me! Apply sovereignty to me.”
Leaders have plans, but then events intervene. Whatever you may think of the plans, and it’s possible to argue that there are majorities in both countries for protecting monuments and West Bank annexation, sometimes they need to be scrapped or put on hold because other issues arise. It’s pretty clear that the White House, the Israeli prime minister, as well as governors and mayors did not want to have to return to lockdowns and social distancing, but the coronavirus doesn’t care about politics. We all would rather be dealing with something else, but it’s up to us to get our priorities in line.