Rome and Jerusalem

I took this picture inside the Rome Synagogue on May 8, 2024, after the morning prayer (“Shaharit”) which was on “Rosh Hodesh Iyar” (the first day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, during which Israel celebrates its independence). It is in this synagogue that Pope John Paul II said in April 1986 that the Jews are the Christians’ elder brothers.

The text below is based on a lecture delivered by Emmanuel Navon at the De Gasperi Foundation on May 8, 2024. It calls for the preservation of Judeo-Christian values and of Western culture in the face of a joint assault by post-modern nihilism and pre-modern Islamism.

On the 8th of May 2024, ELNET (European Leadership Network) held its first Italy-Israel strategic dialogue in Rome, in partnership with the De Gasperi Foundation. The date was symbolic because May 8 marks the end of World War II in Europe. Italians and Jews fought together as brothers toward the end of the war in northern Italy. The Italian Resistance and the Jewish Brigade joined the Allies to fight and defeat the Nazis, intoning Bella Ciao –the song of the Italian partisans– and Hatikva –the Hebrew ode to hope that became Israel’s national anthem.

The Jewish Brigade had been established in the Summer of 1944. It was composed of Palestinian Jews (this is how Israelis were called at the time) and it started fighting in Italy in October 1944. Unlike the Jewish Legion that fought during World War One and which was made up of Diaspora Jews, the Jewish Brigade was composed of what Italians call Ebrei –Hebrews. Jews who spoke Hebrew, who lived in their historic homeland, and who were rebuilding their country.

It is symbolic that in 1944 Hebrew and Italian soldiers fought together because, eighteen hundred years before, Roman and Judean soldiers had fought each other. The two Jewish-Roman wars between the years 66 and 136 were eventually won by the Roman Empire. The Jews were defeated and scattered, and their country was destroyed. But if we look at history in a broad perspective, the Jews ended-up having the upper hand. They survived eighteen centuries of exile and rebuilt their independence. The Roman empire, by contrast, is no longer around –even though it has shaped, and continues to influence, Western civilization.

This civilization rests upon two pillars: Rome and Jerusalem. It is from Jerusalem that the Jews wrote the Bible and observed its commandments, and it is from there that the Jewish faith became a universal message via the Church. Rome incorporated and expanded both Hellenism and Christianism. This unique blend produced Western civilization which, with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, became a wonder of scientific innovation, of cultural richness, and of political freedom. This civilization, of which our two respective capitals are the cornerstones, is under attack today –both by radical Islam and by post-modernism.

You only need to look at European and at American universities to witness this coordinated assault. The same people on Western campuses who call for the elimination of Israel also chant “Death to America.” The billions spent by Qatar and by Saudi Arabia on American universities have turned entire departments into machines of indoctrination, with the willing support of radical professors whose deconstructionist agenda is only directed at Western culture.

Hence the bizarre alliance between two otherwise incompatible ideologies: post-modern nihilism and pre-modern Islamism. The only reason they are joining forces is because they have a common enemy: Western civilization. It is no coincidence that Judith Butler, who has spent her professional life fighting the core values of the Judeo-Christian civilization, has described Hamas as a progressive movement, and October 7 as an act of resistance.

In this unholy alliance between wannabee revolutionaries and medieval reactionaries, the former always end up being the useful idiots of the latter. Those tick-tock students who wear a keffiyeh today would have worn a Che Gevara shirt forty years ago.

It is both tragic and ironic that, as Iranian women risk their lives by removing their headscarves, spoiled and ignorant students in the West walk around with those scarves thinking they are cool. They follow the steps of Jean-Paul Sartre who, in 1963, went to Prague to tell the Czechs oppressed by Communism that they were lucky to be on the right side of the iron curtain.

Sartre, like most French intellectuals then and Western academics today, was at least consistent in always being on the wrong side of history. He didn’t join the French resistance, he praised Mao Zedong, and he considered Ayatollah Khomeini a liberator. Michel Foucault called Khomeini a holly man. As we all know, Foucault was hardly an expert on holiness… Given his personal lifestyle, he would not have survived a single day in the Islamic republic. But, of course, Sartre and Foucault were only fascinated by the totalitarian and destructive ideologies of Mao and of Khomeini.

A hundred years before that, in 1856, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his book L’ancien régime et la révolution that French philosophers were fascinated by autocratic China. That’s because, Tocqueville explained, the radical philosophes were not interested in freedom but in imposing their untested ideas on others. Another brilliant French mind, Raymond Aron, described Marxism as the “opium of the intellectuals.” Marxism has morphed into wokeism, but many intellectuals still need their opium.

We must provide an alternative to that opium by rebuilding the pride of our youth in Western civilization. There are no better places to start from than Rome and Jerusalem.

Rome and Jerusalem is the name of a book published in 1862 by Moses Hess, a Jewish-German philosopher who argued that the Jews needed to reclaim the national component of their identity and to put an end to their exile. Hess was addressing a question raised by the defeat of the Judean armies in the first century, which I mentioned earlier. This defeat was described in detail by Flavius Josephus in his book The Jewish Wars.

Toward the end of the book, Josephus tells the story of Emperor Titus visiting the city of Antioch whose inhabitants demanded from him the expulsion of the Jews. And this is what Titus told them: “Well, their country, where they should be sent back since they’re Jews, has just been destroyed, and no other territory can welcome them.”

Those words were pronounced 1,954 years ago. The Jews have survived that period against all odds, and they have rebuilt a country that is free, prosperous, and successful. This is a source of pride and inspiration to whoever wants to preserve Western civilization, and a source of rage and frustration to those who want to destroy it.

I’ve used the words “pride” and “rage” as a reference to Oriana Fallaci’s book The Rage and the Pride (“La rabbia e l’orgoglio”), which she published shortly after 9/11. As Sartre and Foucault were celebrating Khomeini, Oriana confronted him. The pride Florentine donna threw her chador in Khomeini’s face after interviewing him for hours, and then told him the following: “Your revolution did not yield the good fruit that people had called for, did not bring any of the things you had promised. Less freedom than ever. You are headed for darker waters, Imam.”

Oriana ends her book –which she called a sermon– by writing that she wants an Italy that defends its values, its culture, its national identity.

It is for this Italy, and for this Israel, that we fought together in 1944.

And it is for them that we must fight again today.

About the Author
Dr. Emmanuel Navon is a scholar and practitioner of diplomacy. He is the Executive Director of ELNET Israel (an NGO that promotes relations between Israel and Europe) and is an adjunct lecturer of International Relations at Tel Aviv University. In addition, he is a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), and an international affairs analyst for i24news. He is the author of The Star and the Scepter: A Diplomatic History of Israel.
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