Rabbi Sacks on his Personal Hatikvah

JInsider (March 2010)

Think of Israel, not in conventional political terms, but in global and ultimate terms. What are the major problems confronting humanity in the 21st century? Well, number one: global warming. Number two: the growing difference between rich and poor nations. Number three: asylum seekers, an enormous problem in America, and of course, in Europe. Number four: the fight against terror. And number five, maybe the most difficult one: the fight to create viable democracy in parts of the world that never had a tradition of democracy.

Take them one by one. First: environmental ethics. Israel, even in the 1860s with organisations like Chovovei Tzion, before the word Zionism had yet been coined, was the first place in the world where people planted trees and planted forests, instead of destroying them.

Number two: asylum seekers. There are only two nations in the world made up of asylum seekers: one is the United States, the other is Israel. They have come to Israel from 103 different countries, speaking 82 different languages. And out of that extraordinary mix have made one deeply energetic and creative people.

Number three: the gap between rich and poor nations. Very, very few nations in the last 50 years have moved from a Third World economy to a First World economy. And the supreme example is Israel. Without any natural resources other than the human capital of its population, it’s become a world leader in agricultural technology, in medical technology, in information technology, nanotechnology. If you want a signal of hope on the economic front, it’s Israel

Number four: the fight against terror. Israel has led that fight from the very beginning and has developed the only proven successful protections against terror in the world. And they have become the world’s tutors in how to confront this growing threat to humanity in the 21st century.

And the fifth problem: how to create democracies in a part of the world that didn’t know them. Israel is the most vivid and vital democracy in the whole of the Middle East. And work this out. Where did Jews come to Israel from? Originally in the 1880s to the 1910s, they came from czarist Russia. Then they came from Arab lands. Then they came from Ethiopia, from Africa. Think about that again. And then, of course, they came more recently from Communist Russia when that opened up. In other words, the majority of Jews who came to Israel from countries that had never known democracy. And yet there was never any doubt that Israel would be a democracy, and it was from the very first elections in 1922, the first elections to the Tzochnut, which was the proto-government of the not yet state of Israel.

So look at the five fundamental problems facing humanity in the 21st century, and in each one of them, Israel is a source of hope, not just to Jews, but to the world. To every small country, every country lacking natural resources, every country lacking democracy, Israel is a source of hope. And that is how we should defend Israel in the public domain.