English ways could enhance Israeli politics

Israeli politics pay little heed to nuances of the English language. That is the gist of several recent articles in the Israeli media. As one of the quarter-million Israeli citizens whose mother tongue is English I urge Israelis to realize that they are living in a largely English-speaking world and to become aware of English idiom and accept more British features into Israeli political life.

The British political system does not lack its crises and casualties, as we see from the Brexit problem which is currently tearing Britain apart.

It does not lack its blunders, as we see from the grave error made by the British Labor party in electing as their leader the divisive Jeremy Corbyn who has a strange problem with Jews and Israel.

It does not lack its record of occasional unwisdom such as the anguish caused to the Yishuv in the 1940s by Ernest Bevin (I hope it’s true that before he died he did teshuvah…).

British politics does not lack its cranks, eccentrics and fanatics.

But at its best the British way of government is the exemplar of parliamentary responsibility, which requires a politician to behave properly or resign.

The British way thinks like the Talmudic tradition, which insists that a leader must not mislead. It knows that no leader is a saint, and it reminds the public that sometimes they have to recognize that a leader comes to their task with a basket of snakes on their back. But it expects a leader to have the instinct to know when the basket of snakes threatens to compromise their public career and affect the integrity and good name of leadership, and then they should have the conscience to resign in dignity.

What has become British political wisdom also warns a parliamentarian that they should know their electorate and electors. They should be part of district life and be happy to be sent to Parliament by people who know and trust them, regardless of the platforms and pressures of their political party. Put clearly, membership of parliament should be representational, representing a constituency and not a whole country, being beholden to the people of a particular place and not just a party.

Personally I developed an affection for the British system over the 15 years that I lived in London. I knew some members of both Houses and was even quoted in Commons and Lords debates. Of course I realized that British politics is the product of its history and it has peculiar habits and strange names, loose screws and screwy MPs, but it belongs to the people rather more than the Israeli system belongs to the Israeli people.

When I left London I moved to Australia, where political life is perhaps less gentlemanly but at its best is also an expression of the British system. There too my views were sometimes quoted in Parliament, both on the Federal and the State level. My passion was the saying of the Israelite prophet, “Zion will be redeemed by justice”.

One of the best features of British politics is its two-tier system. With important changes I recommend it to the Israeli community. I don’t envisage an Upper House made up of aristocrats but a Chamber of Eminent Citizens, men and women who have enriched the country with their talents and experience and are too valuable to be pushed into the shadows and unable to exert a significant influence.

Israel would benefit from a House of Review that gave eminent people a voice because of their contribution to science, culture, commerce and religion. Forget the title of House of Lords, forget the undemocratic notion of peers and princes, find a good Hebrew name, and set up a system that will give Israeli legislation a better set of checks and balances. Disraeli called politicians plunderers and blunderers. Let’s prove him wrong.

Don’t be afraid that religious leaders will be given an extra platform. Challenge them to join the prophets of Israel. Judah Magnes, a former president of the Hebrew University, wrote that “politics is one of the basic spiritual, intellectual and practical concerns of life. The prophets of Israel never dissociated politics from religion. On the contrary, they were passionately interested in politics.”

About the Author
Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem.
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