The life and death of an organization

Organizational theory sheds light on the Middle East, its nations and the various pro and anti-Israel forces it is home to. Opinion.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

OpEds Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Eliran Aharon

Organizational Theory  is a large and respected discipline in the social sciences which has given rise to research projects, books and countless articles. A large number of researchers deal with questions such as why organizations are established, how they work, what motivates their members, what problems they face and what causes some of them to disappear.

These topics are important to anyone wishing to understand the Middle East, because every state is an organization, as are its armed forces, political parties, religious or civil associations - even terror groups are not exempt from the processes that exist in rational organizations.

At the end of the day, although significant and important cultural characteristics distinguish the Middle East from other regions, there are, nevertheless, commonalities it shares with the rest  of mankind.

The family and the tribe

The oldest and most universal organization is the family. Its main characteristic, as far as we are concerned, is the fact that  it is an organization based on human biology. A mother and father bring a child into the  world, these children have their own children one day, and so on, generation after generation. Membership  is not a matter of choice for someone born into a family and raised by it, and although upon adulthood he can abandon it, he will continue to be the biological son of his parents because families are connected by biology, not ideology.

In various places and cultures there are differing roles for the family: In today's individualistic Western culture, the nuclear family (father,  mother, children) is the norm, while aunts, uncles and cousins are less connected, if at all, and their influence on the individual is minimal.  In contrast, in the Middle East, the extended family (parents, uncles, grandparents and their children) exerts strong influence on the individual, this as a result of the arid desert environment and the constant struggle for sources of sustenance .

A family as an organization is constantly in the process of renewing itself by bringing more children into the world. Each new child is part of the next generation, fresh blood streaming into the family's arteries, allowing it to continue to exist and adjust to a changing world. The elderly leave naturally and the young join naturally. Continuity through the generations of family life stems from the very fact of its being a biologically-based organization. As long as its members continue the biological cycle of life, the family organization will continue to exist, irrespective of whether its members share identical or disparate ideologies.

Ideological Organizations and  Interest-oriented Organizations

Non-family organizations are assemblies of people whose goal is advancing ideological issues or a cause. Examples of ideological organizations are the ASPCA, Gush Emunim and Peace Now, while examples of interest-oriented organizations are guilds, labor unions, manufacturers, merchants, bar associations and similar professional groups.

It is important to emphasize that in these organizations, ideology and interests are not diametrically opposed to one another but are present in different proportions: Ideological organizations have interest-oriented elements, as can be seen from Gush Emunim where the ideology was the belief that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel and the interest-oriented elements were concentrated on creating reasonable living conditions (daycare,  schools, pharmacies, supermarkets) for those families who, for ideological reasons, elected to live on the barren hills of Judea and Samaria.

Interest-oriented organizations also have an ideological element. When a labor union fights for the highest possible salaries for it members, it is acting on its belief in the justice of an egalitarian society.  The Bar Association may be acting to advance the best interests of its members when it makes passing the bar more difficult – as was the case in Israel just recently - in order to prevent large numbers of new lawyers from flooding the market and lowering its members' income, but it also acts to advance the judicial system in Israel for ideological reasons.

In this way, ideology and interests work hand in hand in organizations, with the relative preponderance of one over the other differentiating between ideological organizations, where the ideology is the dominant factor, and interest-oriented organizations, where the opposite is the case.

Situations are rarely static and  have a dynamism of their own, especially in the case of ideological organizations: These typically begin as a group of 21-year-olds with a new idea, shining eyes, a belief in the justice of t heir cause and the energy to pursue it, who get together in order to advance that idea. They abandon their studies and all other pursuits, go out to the streets, demonstrate, distribute flyers – printed at their parents' expense in the local stationer's (saving money by printing two to a standard sheet of paper), handing them out to passersby or putting them in mailboxes. Lacking the funds needed to rent an office, they plan their activities in some abandoned shack on the outskirts of the city.

Several years pass. The organization has grown and its members are now 25 years old. They divide their activities among different departments, decide on a hierarchy that defines who is above whom. They turn to the public for donations, purchase mobile phones for the department heads so that they can coordinate activities, hire a car for the organization's use. The general staff is moved to a seedy office in an industrial zone, because that is all the budget allows. At this point, couples begin to appear, as young men and women – with shared ideology coursing in their veins – set up families, and every member attends the weddings.

When the members reach the age of 30, the organization has already hired a CEO, has had internal elections, hired a lawyer and accountant, arranged for tax exemption, a yearly budget and a balance sheet. The organization begins to function abroad and partnerships are formed with similar overseas organizations. The media express interest in the organization and its activities. The organization begins granting salaries to married members who have to feed and clothe the children who appear after the weddings that took place during the first stage.

When they hit 35, the members move to more presentable – and more costly – premises in an office building, because it is impossible to bring potential donors to a dilapidated room in an industrial zone. The CEO takes the corner room that has two windows, and a competition ensues between heads of departments over who gets the rooms closest to his. An increasing portion of the budget is invested in salaries, social benefits, pensions, flights overseas (the tourist department, naturally), cars and office expenses. Less and less is invested in the ideology and goals for which the organization was established.

The organization plans events in order to  raise funds which are used to plan fundraising events  that ensure the organization's continued ability to plan events in order to raise funds to plan events…do you get it? When the members are about forty years old, they begin to argue over whose sons will find jobs in the organization, who flies overseas to represent the organization, who represents the organization in the media and who meets the president at the celebration in honor of  the organization. The major part of the budget is allocated to running the organization and meeting its payroll and only a small fraction is allocated towards advancing its original goals

By the time the original members are aged 50, the organization has been corrupted, is interested in its own existence and its internal conflicts (why does he get to fly business class while I have to make do with economy?), with each of its higher-ups carrying more about himself and his family than about the organization. Sixty years after its founding, the organization is in stagnation, its activities almost at a standstill, its members on their way out, some staying on only to ensure their retirement incomes, the ideals for which it was established almost totally abandoned.

Meanwhile, however, a group of  21 year olds with a similar idea, light in their eyes, a belief in the justice of their cause and a good deal of energy appears on the scene, but they are repelled by the existing old and decadent organization and establish a new one – fresh, clean and filled with adrenaline. They abandon their studies and other pursuits, go out into the streets, demonstrate for their ideology, print flyers – at their  parents' expense at the local stationer's  (two to a standard page in order to cut expenses) – handing them out to passersby and putting them in mailboxes. Their meetings are held in an abandoned shack on the outskirts of town…

Do you understand? What happened to the first organization is that it evolved from an ideological to an interest-oriented organization (salaries and offices) and began to age, just like a human being who begins his life with boundless energy and ends it with all his fading strength invested in maintaining his body, in finding the right pills and medicines. The young find this repulsive and establish a different organization.

And that is the fate of every organization, unless it is wise  enough to inject new blood into its hardening arteries in the form of young, energetic, idealistic members who believe in the justice of its cause and are willing to take charge of advancing their ideals. This phenomenon has been in evidence in recent years, as the old and ailing Zionist cause is injected with rejuvenating new blood in the form of new organizations such as Im Tirtzu, Hashomer Hechadash, Reservists on Duty, Regavim, Shurat HaDin, My Israel, My Truth, NGO Monitor, Tatzpit (see below for descriptions) and others, which have taken upon themselves to advocate for Zionism and raise their voices against organizations which work against the State of Israel, such as Breaking the Silence.

Political parties are not exempt from the fate of  aging organizations. One look at the Knesset  reveals a goodly number of political organizations which began as ideological movements and are now prisoners of narrow interests – with the supreme interest of their members the desire to retain their Knesset seats and nothing more.

The PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and every other Middle Eastern organization are also going through this process. They, too, are made up of people, and are undergoing the deterministic, general and inescapable phenomenon of organizational decay, unstoppable unless they allow new , fresh and ideological blood to be injected into the corrupted body of their organizations. An organization's ability to attract young, idealistic people - whose activities are based on a belief in the justice of their cause - to its ranks, is the main indicator of its ability to continue to achieve its goals over  time.

Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, senior consultant and op-ed editor, Arutz Sheva English site.


Organizations cited in the article:

Im Tirtzu: Grassroots, originally student organization dedicated to combating a "campaign of de-legitimization against the State of Israel and to [provide responses to post-Zionist and anti-Zionist phenomena."

Hashomer Hachadash: Named for similar pre-state organization, provides security and protection to Israel's smaller, more vulnerable communities in the Negev and in the Galilee, particularly from Bedouin theft and encroachment,  

Reservists on Duty: Established in December 2015 by Israeli reserve soldiers and officers to act against the BDS boycott campaign. and in Israel its goal is to "work to counter the Israeli non-profit organizations that assist BDS."

Regavim: A pro-Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria NGO that monitors and pursues legal action in the Israeli court system against any construction lacking Israeli permits undertaken by Palestinians or Bedouins anywhere in Israel.

Shurat HaDin: Has been successful in obstructing terrorist groups from financing their violent crimes, through legal action and civil lawsuits.

My Israel: Movement founded by Naphtali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked before their parliamentary careeers, deals with public relations across the internet and especially on social networks and Wikipedia

My Truth:  A grassroots, non-profit, educational organization comprised of IDF reserve soldiers who seek to share the values and experiences of Israeli soldiers and show their high ethical standards.

NGO Monitor:  Provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of NGOs  claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.

Breaking the Silence: Organization that defames the IDF worldwide, purporting to tell stories of atrocities, none of which have been proven true. In fact, its spokesperson has been tried for lying about his own behavior.. It is barred from Israeli schools and funded by the NIF.