I was in London for the UK general election on December 12, the same day the Knesset dissolved and set a new Israeli election in 90 days – March 2. A London cabbie told me before the vote that Britain was as polarized as Israel, but he expected Boris Johnson to trounce Jeremy Corbyn.
His prediction was spot on. Johnson’s Conservative Party beat Corbyn’s Labour Party with a landslide majority of 80 seats in the 650-seat Parliament. The result boosted the Tories’ position in favor of Brexit, with Johnson pledging to withdraw the UK from the European Union by the end of January 2020.
As mayor of London, Johnson visited Israel in 2015, when I met him at the Western Wall. Appearing genuinely moved as he placed his right hand on the wall, he told Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and me that he had Jewish ancestors from Moscow on his mother’s side – some of them rabbis.
“It is a great privilege to come to this Wall for the first time in my life, and I join the prayers for peace in Jerusalem,” he wrote in the visitors’ book.
A week after his victory, Johnson made an encouraging pledge to combat boycotts against Israel, saying it tends to be targeted with “nauseating frequency.”
Johnson’s decisive victory made me wonder if the British election system is better than the Israeli one. Why is Israel facing a third election in a year, and why can’t a leader from either the ruling Likud or the opposition Blue and White form a clear majority in the 120-seat Knesset?
As I toured London with a friend, we saw a Labour election poster mocking Johnson’s closeness to US President Donald Trump. It reminded me of the posters Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had put up of himself with Trump, who is more popular in Israel than he is in the UK.
The cabbie told me that Johnson had slyly shifted his views on Brexit to get into 10 Downing Street, but assured me – after learning I was from Jerusalem – that he was definitely pro-Israel and against the rising tide of antisemitism.
Jewish leaders, led by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, had spoken out resolutely against antisemitism within Labour before the election. “A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party,” Mirvis wrote in The Times of London.
“Elections should be a celebration of democracy,” Mirvis began, but concluded with a warning, that “the very soul of our nation is at stake.”
My friend reminded me of an aphorism made famous by Winston Churchill that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
In Britain’s case, democracy seems to have worked this time. Perhaps Israel can learn a lesson from its former colonial rulers?
Jerusalem today has the most supportive leaders, perhaps ever, in Downing Street, the White House, the Kremlin and elsewhere. But why can’t Israel get its own house in order?
I thought of David Ben-Gurion’s credo, “What matters is not what the Goyim [non-Jews] say, but what the Jews do.”
What the Jewish state needs to do in the months ahead is find a way to break the political impasse and bridge the gaping divide between Left and Right, rich and poor, the religious and the secular, Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Now is the time to rally together, a time for strong leadership, national unity and an attitude of gratitude for this miraculous nation of creation and innovation. Now is the time, in Johnson’s words, “for peace in Jerusalem.” That is my fervent wish for Israel as we begin 2020.