Reality Check: A diamond jubilee for Israel?
Israel should institute a few days’ public holidays a year so that we can all have a good time – together.
Queen Elizabeth at Epsom Derby festival Photo: REUTERS
Sixty years in any job is worthy of celebration, so only a kill-joy would decry
this weekend’s extended festivities in the United Kingdom to mark Queen
Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – even though the idea of monarchy goes firmly
against the grain.
The biblical prophet Samuel got it right when he
warned the elders of Israel against appointing a king. A king, he said, “will
take your sons and appoint them as his charioteers and horsemen... will take
your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers... will seize your choice fields,
vineyards and olive groves... He will take a tenth part of your flocks and you
shall become his slaves.”
Indeed, the Crown Estate in Britain is one of
the largest property owners in the United Kingdom, with a portfolio worth £7
billion, including large chunks of central London and, fittingly enough given
Queen Elizabeth II’s love of horseracing, Ascot racecourse.
accrued wealth of the British and other royal families, whether still sitting on
their thrones or not, is not the key argument against a monarchical system. What
rankles is the idea that a person, through sheer accident of birth, is regarded
as superior to others and due deferential treatment that is inherited but not
QUEEN ELIZABETH herself has earned the admiration of
Her life as queen has been one filled with duty and almost
faultless behavior, her only major slip being a failure to understand the
societal dynamics at work during the hysteria-filled days following the death of
Diana, her onetime daughter-in-law.
Other monarchs are less dutiful;
Spain’s King Juan Carlos recently chose to go on an elephant-hunting safari in
Africa despite his country’s severe economic crisis (and the ironic fact that he
is the honorary president of Spain’s World Wildlife Fund).
There is more,
though, to Queen Elizabeth’s successful reign than an ability to smile silently
through countless flower shows, bricklaying ceremonies, tree plantings and state
ceremonial occasions. While British society has changed almost beyond
recognition since the end of the Second World War, she has been a constant
presence in British lives, first as a princess, then a young queen bringing up
her family and now as the nation’s matriarch.
As British Chief Rabbi Lord
Jonathan Sacks wrote in the London Times last week: “Her presence and her
family’s role as the human face of national identity is one of the great
unifying forces in Britain, a unity we need all the more, the more diverse
religiously and culturally we become.”
This role of a unifying force is
something that Israel desperately lacks. Our presidents aspire to it, but given
the baggage they bring to the position from their previous (in most cases)
political careers, there are always going to be large sections of the population
who will never truly warm to them. And the less we talk of Moshe Katsav, the
SO DOES Israel need a royal family? Although the Netanyahus seem
to have been auditioning for the role for two decades, the answer is a clear
“no.” The British system currently works more because of Queen Elizabeth’s
exceptional character than for any other reason. It seems very unlikely that her
son Charles, when he succeeds to the throne, will engender the same admiration
And at its heart, Israel is still an egalitarian country
with no truck for deference.
But we badly need the occasional event in
which we can all celebrate our good fortune in living in this
Independence Day is not the answer. For almost 20 percent of the
country’s citizens, the establishment of a Jewish state was not the pinnacle of
2,000 years of yearning. And for others, the painful juxtaposition of
Independence Day with Remembrance Day makes it too hard for them to
Israel’s other national holidays are all religious and so
while each and every one of us is free to mark them as they choose (unless
you’re reliant on public transport, which of course is shut down by religious
fiat for the duration of the festival), these holidays do not unite the nation
as a whole. In fact, they actually divide the country, sending one section to
the synagogue, another to the beach or national parks while sending a further
message of non-belonging to Israel’s large non-Jewish minority.
the British today are celebrating a public holiday, with no religious or any
other significance behind it, with an extra day tomorrow to mark the Diamond
Jubilee, so too should Israel institute a few days’ public holidays a year so
that we can all have a good time – together.
The writer is a former
editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.