Good news from Israel


I have good news. Good news from Israel.

But first, let me share with you a story. When Menachem Begin visited the States for the first time as Prime Minister in 1977, he spent one night in a hotel in New York. Unsurprisingly, a group of protesters hassled him under the window. They were anti-Israel folks of the ultra-Orthodox variety, those black-dressed lunatics who — maintain that Zionism is blasphemy and the Israeli Prime Ministers -all of them- are bloodthirsty criminals. It was a small clique but very noisy. Past 10.00 PM, the hoteliers and the security services offered to disperse the group so that the Prime Minister could have his night of rest. But Menachem Begin had no time for it. “Let them protest, he said. Let them make all the noise they want. Those people have waited two thousand years for a Jewish prime minister to protest against and the freedom to protest aloud. Don’t you dare to destroy what they finally have received”.

Reading the news from Israel during the last weeks, I thought several times about this story.

The numbers are impressive. 250 thousand Israeli citizens, more than 2 per cent, regularly participate in demonstrations against the proposed judicial reform. To give you an idea, think of more than 180.000 English citizens. Or 8 thousand citizens of Brighton. These are the biggest demonstrations in the history of the Country, and they have been going on for weeks. It used to be that every Israeli knew at least another Israeli who died in war. Now every Israeli knows one Israeli citizen who takes part in these demonstrations.

These protesters belong to every stratum of Israeli society. They are farmers, social workers, students, and hi-tech entrepreneurs. Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrachis. Religious and secular. There are Left-wing leaders, like our own Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a Labour MP, and Right-wing personalities, such as Tzipi Livni and Benny Begin. So many people and so diverse that they cannot even appoint an official spokesperson.

And now let me ask, how often to see something similar in England? I mean people doing politics, things like demonstrations and rallies. Hundreds of thousands of people, I mean. Not that often, I suppose. These days, doing politics means writing two lines on Twitter, pushing the send button, and then waiting for someone to argue with. This is how politics is done those days.

Someone still goes canvassing; that’s true. But remember when we organised a meeting with all the candidates for the political elections in 2019? The average age of the participants was so high, there were no young people. This is not good for the future: it means that young UK citizens are not interested in democracy.

The lack of participation in political life in this Country is dramatic not only in the UK. It’s a problem in the Western world. In Italy two weeks ago, people voted for the Governors of the two biggest regions, Lombardy and Lazio, that is, Milan and Rome: 40% of people did not bother to vote. These are the elections that decide who will govern the major cities and their regions, that is, the politicians who will take decisions for matters that affect their daily lives, such as public health, traffic, and transportation… But an increasing number of citizens simply do not care, and do not trust the system or the politicians. They chose not to have a voice.

The problem is the same all over the Western world. There’s a dramatic mistrust in democracy. This is the reason why populist political forces grow everywhere: because distrust of democracy is the basis of their agendas. So many people all over the world do not care for politics and do not trust democracy at all.

And then there is a small Country where things are different. A Country — lest we forget- that is constantly targeted by terrorists, even now, even at this very moment. Israel is the only Country in the world that a coalition of other countries (led by Iran) has committed to erase from the face of the earth. Nonetheless, despite being under threat of annihilation, the citizens of this Country, the Israelis, prove that they believe in democracy and mobilise themselves.

In that Country, hundreds of thousands of citizens join public rallies in all the major cities, everywhere, from the impoverished villages in the South to big cities such as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and even in some settlements in the West Bank.


It may be, as Menachem Begin said, that we Jews have waited for such a long time to have a government against which to protest, and we want to savour this opportunity. Try to organise a Jewish demonstration against the Iranian Government in Tehran: good luck with that). It can also be that the high concentration of Jewish citizens in a Jewish State creates the conditions for highly participated and opinionated Jewish public life…

Whatever the reason for such mass participation, the important point is this, and I am quite impressed that no one has noticed. The Israelis are teaching the rest of the world that democracy matters.

I do not have a high opinion of the current Israeli Government. I think that Netanyahu is a cynical man, yet very talented, who, at this point, should build a different coalition. Honestly, I am worried about the judicial reform and the worst things to come, especially restrictions on Jeiwsh immigration from Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia, etc. That would be a betrayal of Zionism.

Nonetheless, let me state it clearly. Our faith commands us to judge everybody for good.

Perhaps those who -even now- spend their time insulting Israel on social media (and call it “doing politics”, and call themselves Jewish…) have never been in touch with this important teaching of our Tradition. It’s not a secret that horrible persons such as the perennial critics-of-Israel know very little of Judaism and that they get it wrong even that very little (it’s funny to see how ultra-Orthodox are held in huge esteem for some antiZionist rants published before the 20s…). But who cares about their rants. We must judge Israel for good.

And so here is my opinion. How can you not admire the Israelis? How can not you be proud of being a Jew, of being a Zionist right now? Look at the passion and dedication to democracy that, in these weeks, the Israelis are showing to the world. Precisely when people in the Western world have lost faith in democracy and the despot in the Kremlin smirks, “I told you so, Western democracy is over”.

Having faith in the power of democracy these days means being a light upon the nations, which is what Zionism is all about.

There is something in the Jewish culture which encourages us Jews to take part in public life. This week’s Torah portion, for example, is all about God’s instructions to make the Tabernacle and its furnishings: Quite a trivial and, dare I say, boring topic. But commentators have read in these paragraphs important teachings regarding public life. Even when the text is about a portable altar!

For example, they compare the Tabernacle to a leader and admonish that political leaders must be gold (that is, pure) on the inside and outside. In the opening of the Torah portion, God commands the Israelites to bring gifts with a well-disposed heart. But what exactly happens here?. asks the Sfas Emet. Are these spontaneous donations, or rather people are asked to contribute? How can you command anyone to feel generous and hence to give generously? Are these taxes or donations? And the answer is — people are happy to give money to pay taxes if they feel a sense of belonging to society.

This an extraordinary teaching by a Rabbi at a time when democracy as we know it, with universal suffrage, was yet to be invented. The Jewish tradition finds political meanings even in the description of the building of a portable altar!

Our tradition encourages us to be involved in politics. If you wonder why when the rest of the world does not trust democracy anymore, the Israelis are showing the opposite faith in democracy, and you suggest that the answer is in the Torah, that’s fine for me. I am willing to concede that when the Israelis do something good is because they are inspired by the Torah. I am a Rabbi, and helping Jews find inspiration in the Torah is my job after all. But the main point, and we should not be afraid to tell it openly, is that the Israelis are doing something very good, something remarkable, something inspiring.

Kol ha Kavod, maximum respect and Yasher koach. May the strength be with them.



Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.