We were once Leicester City!

People have been united in following the unlikeliest of Cinderella stories this football season. Fans watched in disbelief as Leicester City, a 5000-to-1 outsider in August, lifted the Premier League title, as larger and wealthier rivals fell by the wayside. I’m not a Leicester supporter, but I watched their games, hoping the fairy tale would have the happy ending they deserved. We love an underdog story, when David defeats Goliath, when the seemingly weaker and smaller side is able to triumph against all the odds.

In 1948 and 1967 Israel was the underdog. The world watched as the fledgling Jewish State faced off against surrounding foes, and many expected she’d succumb. While it would be an exaggeration to claim that we were supported as much as Leicester, by all neutrals, we were definitely not public enemy number one, and we were certainly admired for our determination and courage. We were the underdogs in terms of numbers, wealth, and by almost every significant measure, yet we triumphed.

Back in those days, in the shadow of the Holocaust and with the charismatic David ben Gurion at the helm, Israel was not seen as an oppressive colonial force, but rather a socialist experiment of outcasts and the destitute who had returned to their ancestral homeland, with nowhere else to go.

Since then the narrative has changed, at some point the perception of Israel, in many people’s eyes switched from David to Goliath. We have a secure, thriving, modern Jewish state and most significantly one which is able to protect herself against her enemies. But there is a problem of perspective. In relation to the Palestinians Israel is indeed stronger today. In relation to the Arab Middle East, as a whole, Israel remains the David, a small country surrounded by significantly larger neighbors, many of whom would celebrate her destruction. But I’m not sure this is really the issue.

Historically the wider world has had an easier time relating to Jews as a landless, powerless people, spread across the globe. And this has been the situation for most of our history. For some, the Jewish position was a form of religious punishment for their rejection of other Prophets and traditions.

Everything changed for a brief period of history in the middle of the twentieth century. With the experience of the Holocaust and in the immediate aftermath, there was an understanding that we Jews needed to defend ourselves. As a landless, powerless people we had suffered the ultimate crime against humanity and the world understood that the situation was untenable.

I recognize that unfortunately there will always be racists and anti-Semites in this world. There will always be people who are mistrustful and hostile towards the “other”, sometimes Jews are the primary focus, but we know that this animosity has also been directed against other groups. I am far more concerned and depressed at the way in which anti-Semitic statements, submerged in vicious criticism of Israel, are becoming widespread in polite society.

Over the last few years Israel has transformed into public enemy number one; they forget that despite our success at establishing a state, in reality we remain Leicester City. We Jews remain a minority in the world, and despite Israel’s successes she survives in a very precarious situation, in a very bad neighborhood, with a number of other countries actively pursuing her destruction.

When people focus on Israel and fail to call other countries to justice we are left with two possibilities: either Israel is the most wicked regime in the world, which is patently untrue; or they have a problem with the Jewish state, which unfortunately gives their position the unwanted stench of anti-Semitism. It is legitimate to question the actions of Israel and her Government, but it is illegitimate to hold her to a standard that no other country is held to. It is legitimate to call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but illegitimate to call for the destruction of Israel so that Jews will be homeless again. It is legitimate to campaign for changes in the policies of any State in the world, but illegitimate to only campaign against the Jewish State.

If Leicester go on to win the Premier League next season I am certain that there will be far fewer neutrals supporting them. If they go on to establish a footballing dynasty it will not take long for them to become very unpopular. As a club they might not change one bit, but the perception from the outside will be altered.

Israel was Leicester City and Israel remains Leicester City. The rest of the world may choose to view us as a Chelsea or Manchester City, but we know that every day Israel is defying the odds not just to survive, but to thrive. Despite her successes in the global arena Israel remains an underdog for survival. If you could have placed a bet on Israel’s survival in 1948, you might well have got odds approaching 5000-to-1, but hopefully we will continue to defy those odds as the ultimate Cinderella story.

About the Author
Rabbi Danny is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA. He has a weekly Podcast “2 Minutes of Torah”, which was included in the Top 7 Jewish Podcasts and is available on iTunes. He was a member of the inaugural cohort of the UJA Federation of New York’s Rabbinic Fellowship for Visionary Leaders and he is a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow. Alongside this he is Gabby and Benny’s daddy and Micol’s husband.
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