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 the races 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Queen Elizabeth at the races 370
(photo credit: 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.
But the 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 necessarily earned.
QUEEN ELIZABETH herself has earned the admiration of her subjects.
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 better.
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 affection.
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 country.
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 celebrate.
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.
Just as 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.