Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
"Israel is in the best position it has ever known. And Israel is at its most dangerous moment ever."

"Israel is in the best position it has ever known. And Israel is at its most dangerous moment ever."

Long before the November 1 elections, Yoav Heller sensed a lurking crisis. He predicted it correctly, and this week we hear his diagnosis (today) and his proposed solution (on Wednesday).
Yoav Heller (Courtesy)

Here’s the question I get asked these days more than any other:

Let’s assume that the protest movement succeeds, and Bibi somehow manages to put the proposed judicial reforms in the drawer, lock the drawer and throw away the key. Eventually, with Israel’s demographics shifting to the right, to the Mizrahim, to the Haredim—the liberal values at the heart of the country simply have to give way one day, don’t they? Wouldn’t this be, at best, a temporary win for the protesters?

It’s a very fair question and a sobering one. Because the demographics are shifting, and there’s no way to stop that.

One person who saw this crisis coming, long before the November 1 elections, was Yoav Heller, a former Israeli Navy “seal” and a longtime well-known and highly respected social entrepreneur. Given his alarm about the erosion of a shared Israeli narrative, he founded a new organization called “The Fourth Quarter,” which refers both to Israel now being in the “fourth quarter” of its first century, but also, of course, to the ominous notion that the fourth quarter, at least in sports, can mean “the beginning of the end.”

It’s avoiding that end at all costs to which Yoav is devoting his life. I met with him in his Tel Aviv office not long ago, and we sat for a long conversation. We’re presenting that conversion in two parts this week.

Today’s episode, being made available to everyone along with a transcript, addresses Yoav’s diagnosis of Israel’s present moment. “Israel,” he says, “is in its greatest period ever, but also its most dangerous.” Why this moment is great and why it is also dangerous is the focus of today’s conversation. On Wednesday, we will publish, for paid subscribers, Yoav’s prescription for how Israel can not only survive this moment, but use it to flourish and to create a shared narrative that even its founders could not craft.

If you share our desire to forge a community of people engaged in reasoned discussion and respectful disagreement when it comes to Israel, please subscribe today.

Yoav Heller received his Ph.D. in History from the University of London and a Masters degree from Tel Aviv University in Educational Leadership. He is the Chairman of the Israeli National Sports Institute at Wingate. He served as the CEO of MAOZ, an NGO that works to promote Israel's socioeconomic resilience. Just over a year ago, Yoav and four close friends established “The Fourth Quarter”, a movement Yoav hopes will reshape Israel’s political reality.

He lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and two children.

The link at the top of this page will take you to the recording of the first half of our conversation. The transcript follows, below the link to a YouTube video of Yoav speaking at a Globes business conference before Israel’s latest elections.

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All of our listeners know that we have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about Israel's future, what recent events and recent months have meant for the fabric of Israeli society, where these recent events came from, where we're headed, and so forth. Not that long ago, I had occasion to learn about a fascinating organization which is relatively new in Israel, run by a person who I've known actually for many years in different contexts. The name of the organization is “The Fourth Quarter”, and the person who runs it is Yoav Heller. And the idea here is actually to help Israel prepare itself to move into the fourth quarter without making some of the mistakes that other countries, organizations, businesses, et cetera have made. And Yoav will explain to us why the fourth quarter is a particularly fraught period of time, especially for countries. Those of us who have been those of you who've been reading and listening to our podcasts for a while know that we've spoken a lot about how the First Commonwealth, after King Solomon basically collapsed after 73 years. The Second Commonwealth in the time of Shlomtzion the Queen, collapsed after 74 years, and we're now on our 75th. So, someone who knows Jewish history has to be a little bit worried about what's happening in the Third Commonwealth, especially in light of what's going on now. And “The Fourth Quarter”, under the direction and vision of Yoav Heller understood this before we had the current crisis. I heard Yoav speak at a Globes conference before the fifth elections, and he was already speaking about some of the things that we are facing. So, I wanted to meet up with him, have you learn a little bit about his actually already extraordinary career, to learn about the organization called “The Fourth Quarter”, and most importantly, to hear how Yoav and his colleagues think Israel can fix what's broken and move on to an even brighter future.

So, Yoav, first of all, thank you very much for taking the time. I know you're crazy busy. I can see it in your office. People are running around doing all kinds of things, so I really appreciate the time.

Thank you for hosting me, Daniel.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did we get to this point? Yoav Heller starts where and ends up here.

Myself, well, I will just say that I think one sentence about my childhood which actually formed the way I look at the Israeli society. I grew up in very diverse backgrounds. Most of my childhood was in a very small place in Israel called Menahemia, which is in the far north, in the deep Israeli periphery. And from there I always dreamt on how can we connect between the Israeli periphery, the Israeli center. That was my state of mind. I was a few years in the Special Forces, in the Israeli army. I was a journalist for a few years. I left journalism because as a platoon commander in reserve army, I lost my best friend in battle, and I lost another five people who were under my responsibility. And I decided that I have to leave journalism and go to work on the Israeli society. I was seven years I worked in the Branco Weiss Institute in the field of education. Then I flew with my family to London. I'm an historian. You'll see everything I think is through the lens of history. I'm historian of the Holocaust. And then I ran for seven years, I was the CEO of Maoz organization that works and established a very big and significant network of leaders, cross sector leaders in Israel that we aim to actually improve outcomes of Israeli civic society and Israeli government. And a year and two months ago, during the Bennett administration, I left Maoz, and we established with four friends, “The Fourth Quarter”. I'm the chairman. I don't work in “The Fourth Quarter”, but I dedicate my life to “The Fourth Quarter”. I'm also the chairman of the Israeli National Sports Institute in Wingate. I live in Tel Aviv, married plus two. That's me.

Okay, so a platoon commander, a historian of the Holocaust, journalist, a former head of Maoz, the head of the Sports Institute, and one of the visionaries behind Fourth Quarter. Fourth Quarter has a diagnosis, right? It looks at it looks at the history of other countries, it looks at Israel's history, and it says, as you have said, in many different settings, Israel is at its finest moment ever, and Israel is at its most potentially precipitously dangerous moment ever. Explain both of those claims.

Absolutely. I think we need to tackle the problem definition from two angles. But I do want to insist, I know you said that it's not only that we diagnosed this before the elections. We diagnosed this during the Bennett administration. Why is it important? First of all, you'll see in a moment, we're a grassroots movement, and our accountability now in Israel is built upon the fact that we said this in one political environment, then in the second political environment. So that's very important.

Meaning you're saying the same thing to everybody, you’re not saying something specific to each audience.

Absolutely. And also, our message to people is, let's rise a little bit beyond what we see as the concrete problem, and let's look at the historical perspective and the two angles that we bring to the problem definition. One is the notion of the fourth quarter, as you said, twice in Israeli history, it did not succeed in the fourth quarter, between 75 and 100. And actually, we need to see a little bit deeper the phenomenon there. It was in the Solomon era and also in the Hasmonean. It was prosperity. It was under, the prosperity was hidden, the social fabric that was actually very fragile. And then there came the collapse. So, prosperity, social fabric is fragile and collapse. But we saw it not only in Israeli history, we saw it in…

Well, really Jewish history.

Right, Jewish history. Actually, tens of states in the past were in this situation, most known is the United States of America. It also happened in the fourth quarter.

Right. The Civil War is what happened in the fourth quarter.

What happens in the fourth quarter. So, we said if so many countries were almost at civil war or in civil war in the fourth quarter, this needs to be diagnosed. And what we saw is the following phenomenon, that the first generation actually establishes, the revolution, the second creates the infrastructure. The third, that we're finishing right now, actually, if the country is successful, creates the scale. And I think this is a wonderful country, and the scale here is amazing. And in the fourth generation, there are two processes that happen that I think are universal, and they will come, the crisis will come. Now, it puts you in a crossroad. You could actually manage it and renew yourself, or you could collapse.

And what are those two crises?

Yeah, two things. One is a battle between an old elite and a new elite. It means that there is an elite that came from the establishing group. And that elite in its perception, is now in a regression of power, which actually they're right. But on the other hand, they still have a lot of strongholds in Israeli society or in other countries, in the judiciary system, in the business system, in the special units, in academia.

So, just to make sure everybody is clear, that elite is the secular European, Ashkenazi, Ben-Gurion and his descendants, who in 1949 got 46 seats in the Knesset, and according to recent polls, if they were to run now, would get zero seats in the Knesset.

Yeah, but that's the labor.

But even so, the left in general.

But the sociological group, I think is still worth 35, 40 mandates. And it's important to analyze their perception, because on the one hand, the right, they're in regression, they contribute a lot to the state, but on the other, their victimhood is I think it's also false because, as I say, they have a lot of strongholds in elite. Then comes the new elite.

Who's the new elite?

So, the new elite is a bunch of groups that's the ultra-Orthodox, that's the masorti, or the traditional Sephardic Likud supporters, let's call him from the periphery, from the second belt of Gush Dan, of the Israeli center, so Holon, Bat Yam, the new middle class.

How are they elite? In what way are they elite?

So that's what I will say. On the one hand, their perception is we're not an elite, we're victims of the situation. We're becoming the majority and we don't have any social capital, political capital, financial capital. So, one, what do they say to the old elite? You better share it with us, or we'll take it violently. So, on the one hand, their right, their presence in the Israeli and by the way, it's also the religious Zionist group. Their presence in the Israeli public sphere is not in a proportion to what to their size.

What percentage did you think they are of Israeli society?

Okay, so here it's interesting, it's what they're today and what they will be. I think today they're probably 50%, not more than 50%, which is significant.

Haredim and Mizrahim and Ashkenazi religious Zionism.

Yes, okay, but they will be more. So, the right, they do not get their share. On the other hand, where are they wrong? They're once again like the first group, their perception of victimhood is exaggerated because they have a lot of political power. A new middle class evolved, a new class of political, let's say, azkanim… I don't know how to call it…


Yeah, that are, by the way, the new unions, unions today in Israel are a lot made of these people. So, they possess a lot of power in Israeli governmental offices and so on. So, their perception is right, but also, it's dangerous because they have much more power. So, what happens in the fourth quarter? You have groups that all feel as victims, all feel that they're losing, nobody's taking responsibility. And when the clash happens, people will ask themselves, who's going to take responsibility of the situation if everybody is victims?

Is this the clash? That is what we're in now?

This exactly what's in now. When people say, what are you guys, prophets? We said we're not prophets. We just saw in history. That's what happens. And you know, one of our practices is we tour Israel. I did one yesterday, my 187th parlor, and we go to salons, to houses of people. We get hosted in all political backgrounds. Yesterday I was with 45 people from Ganei Tal, all Likud and Tzionut Datit supporters.

The national religious.

Yes. And you can see they actually are feeling, they feel that they're losing everything. And then I come to Tel Aviv and they're feeling losing everything. And I tell people, look…

Everybody can't be losing everything.

And if that's the perception, then we're in a big problem because nobody will take responsibility on the rebuilding. So actually, that's the phenomenon in the fourth quarter. And I will add another angle to the phenomenon of the fourth quarter before I go to the global phenomenon that I think is affecting us is that we are far from the ideas in years, many years passed from the ideas of the establishing clan of Israel. And what we're saying is the fourth quarter, some of these ideas are still relevant. Judaism, Zionism, a liberal democracy. We just need to a little bit renew them to remind people that they are very relevant. And some of the ideas need to be updated because Israeli society is going through a change. And like in business, companies that do not renew themselves according to the changing reality will not exist. Same thing. So that's one angle of the problem definition. The second angle is the global phenomenon in Western democracies of the collapse of trust. Trust is the willingness to attribute good intentions to one another.

Okay, just say that again. That's really super important, right? So, trust is the willingness to attribute good intentions to the other. America is a complete collapse of trust.

We see their data. When I was the CEO of Maoz, and Maoz still deals with it. Maoz has an R&D, a research and development that has to do only with trust. What globally we see in the indexes, what do we see in Israel, what the field shows us. And it's very, very, very self-evident. You see, in the past 20 years, western democracies are in collapse of trust, of the willingness to attribute good intentions between citizens and between citizens and institutions.

Now we want to focus on Israel, but I just want you to say a couple of sentences because I think it's fascinating. Why is trust evaporating across the world?

Three reasons. They're global. That's what we tell Israelis in Israel. They're typical to Israel, but three reasons: demographic changes, technological changes and economic changes. I can say words about each one of them.

Please do.

Demography. Let's take Israel. But it's all around Western countries. Once Israel, demography has changed dramatically. Let me give you the numbers. In 1960, according to the National Statistical Bureau, in first grades, 61% of the students were in the secular first graders. 24% were in the Religious Zionist schools. 9% were in the Arab schools, 6% were in the Haredi schools. 2017, the 61% become 39% secular, religious Zionist 24%. Everybody thinks they rise. They're down to 14%. They're down, they're down. Somebody is on a rise. Arabs were 9%, they're 24% in first grades. Haredim ultra- orthodox were six percent. Now they're 22%. That's going to change

That's in 2017.

Arab is going to go in 15 years down to 21%- 20%. And ultra- Orthodox will go almost to 30- 32%. Now, the mere definition of what is a state, let alone the state of Israel, is totally different between these groups. Without an Israeli story, some kind of anchors that will create the Israeli story will not attribute good intentions to one another.

Okay, just give us an example really quick, one quick sentence, how each of those four groups tells the story now.

I tell people, go…because people argue with me what does that mean? I say, you know what? Go in Jerusalem Day, where we celebrate in Israel to schools from these different systems and come and report to me. What do they celebrate? So, in Umm al-Fahm, it's an Arab school. They don't know that there's Jerusalem. Of course, they won't celebrate it. In Bnei Brak, it's an ultra-Orthodox school. They don't know it's Jerusalem day. They don't care that there's Jerusalem Day. In an ulpana in Petah Tikva….

A religious girls school.

They will talk about Har Habayit [the Temple Mount], they will talk about the 67 victory.

They'll even put the kids on buses and take them to Jerusalem.

Yes, and they will go and they will celebrate. And in Tel Aviv I was there to see, they talk about the City of Peace. If they even mention it. Take the day of the assassination of Rabin. It's a memorial day, like in America. There's memorial days. In Umm al-Fahm, they won't mention it. In Bnei Brak, they won't mention it. In the ulpana [religious girls school], they found out that Rahel, our mother, that's the day of when she passed away. So, they don't mention mostly Rabin, they mention Rahel Eimenu…

The Rachel, the biblical personality…

Research shows that before ‘95 they didn't celebrate it to that degree.

So, they found a way, biblically, to make the day important without talking about Rabin.

Yes, and I think some of them admit it, some of them don't. You come to Tel Aviv, you get a week about the assassination of Rabin. All of these are indications that actually the demographic changes, this was not interesting, what I mentioned right now, in 1980, because Israeli tells me, but it wasn’t always like that. I say yes, but in 1980 the proportions were 4% Haredi, 15% Arabs, and all the rest were close to one another. That's the collapse of the Israeli story. There won't be trust without it. Then go to the second reason is technology. Because of the echo chambers, we live in different realities. So not only we don't meet in the school systems, we barely meet… already in the army. People tell me the army is the melting pot.

It's not anymore.

47% of Israelis every year now go to the army. 53% don't do the army.

So that's Haredim don't do the army, Arabs

And others.

And what percentage of Jews are not doing the army?

I don't know, I don't want to mislead, but remember, most of religious Zionist girls don't do the army. More and more seculars don't do the army. Still, the percentages are very high and impressive. But the changing demographics-- this is not a melting pot. This is not, this is one mean of a melting pot, but it cannot be the answer. So, you get the echo chambers, and we live in different realities and that's as an historian, I want to say this phenomenon of echo chambers is going to be, in hindsight, something in a level, in a magnitude that I think might even destroy Western democracies. The system has a very hard time to work on these parallel realities. When I go to parlors and one Shabbat evening, Saturday evening, I was in Illit, that’s a…

A settlement across the Green Line, not far from Jerusalem.

And then the day after in Ramat Hasharon, a very liberal crowd. And I came back in the evening and every night, and I barely see my family. And I tell my wife, this is depressing. So, she tells me why they don't agree about the solution during the hype of the demonstrations. I said, no, I don't care about the solution. They don't agree about the reality. These people are saying the reality is this. These people are saying the reality is this. So that's the second reason of the collapse of trust.

Now, technology also, by the way, in social media, it also encourages us to kind of diss people without a hell of a lot of facts.

That’s the phenomena maybe I didn't explain that's the phenomenon.

In other words, it's not only that we're living in these echo chambers, but we can comment about the other echo chambers without really having any serious conversation.

Yeah, let me give you, you know what, two short examples so our listeners will know. One example is in the second or third week of the demonstrations, there was the awful terror attack on Friday in Jerusalem, and on Saturday night there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv. The demonstration with probably 100,000 people, I saw it, probably 90,000 Israeli flags. Very, very nice. There were probably 70 Palestinian flags on the side. The Israeli Sarat Hasbara…

The minister of public…I don't know, she's supposed to tell Israeli story. Yeah, I don't even know what it's called in English.

So, she published on her Twitter, she got a picture only of these 90 flags, and she said, look, on Friday, Israelis were killed because of this flag, the Palestinian flag. On Saturday night, Israelis demonstrated to support that flag…

Which was of course, ludicrous.

But if I am a youngster, a right-wing youngster that sits in of Ofakim in the south of Israel, and I read it, I hate these people. Or I can give you another example from the other side. I have a friend, she's a part of a group of mothers that demonstrated and then on the day of the demonstration, from right and left, there was on Twitter a lot of tweets about La Familia. La Familia is like the extreme, very, very violent, right wing, almost fascist, very small group.

But they have a very high profile. They go to Beitar soccer games, they march in the protests. They are violent. Some people are actually scared of that.

They're very violent and very scared. But there were tens of thousands in the right-wing demonstration and one in the group of my friend people from the left, women from the left. One of them published, “Look at these people.” A picture of these as of all the right wing. Look at them. They're awful people. They're very bad things. My friend said, “But why are you insulting…many of my friends are there?” She didn't mean in La Familia in the large demonstration. She was kicked out of the group.


Yes. And she's left wing. So, these echo chambers are destroying trust.

So even if you just say that the right is not La Familia, it's just the right… in the left, that's crossing a line of some sort. Because you have to think of the right as La Familia.

Why? Because people are fed from their feed. That that's the reality. The third thing is economy. Technology has created extreme economical gaps. And we know there's a correlation between the willingness of people that are poor to attribute good intentions to institutions or to others and the level of their economic mobility. So, this combination of demographic changes, technological changes and economic changes are a threat per se to Western democracies. So, we said, guys, we see that, we see the phenomenon in fourth quarter. What don't we understand here? We need to rise up beyond what is going on here and understand this is a train that will crash, but this is an opportunity because actually we are prospering. As you've said in the beginning. We're saying Israel is in the best situation militarily, economically, and the human resource here is exceptional. So, let's take it and let's go on a journey and fix Israeli politics. But not I'm not going to fix it. You're not going to fix it. We tell people the following there's a problem. You are a part of the problem. We are a part of the problem. But good news you can actually be a part of the solution. But for that, we need now a new perception on reality.

And that's where “The Fourth Quarter” comes in?


Alright. What's the plan?

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Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:

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Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!