French Jewish author Marcel Proust said that people suffering from the same diseases, such as Jews or homosexuals, incessantly seek out their own brethren who suffer from the same trouble, defect or proclivity. Jews see Jews everywhere. And gays can spot the latent homosexuality in every man, even if that man vigorously denies it. We Israelis have also learned the technique. So, we say, Berlusconi is coming to Israel! What is he looking for here, we ask. Why does he want to be among us - we who are considered the lepers of the world? Clearly, he is a leper like us! Aha, that's it: The right dominates in Israel and in Italy. Israel and Italy both have corruption and a mafia. Israel and Italy have prime ministers who love to show off. They've got Fellini, we've got Ajami. They've got Renata Tebaldi, we've got Rita. They've got infiltrators from Africa; we do, too. That's not the same?
Actually, we're not the same. Herein is a partial list of differences.
In Italy, with all its Catholicism, one could never imagine a transport minister backing the idea that women are a contaminated sector of the population that clearly needs to be separated from the healthy population of males, and relegated to the rear half of the bus. In this sexual puritanism, Israel surpasses even Iran, where it is well known that many public transit drivers are women.
In Italy, its lightheartedness notwithstanding, one could never imagine inviting to the dignified Herzliya Conference some backwoods priest who considers himself a great philosopher, to preach about the wonders of Judaism, which invented the greatness of the Sabbath, in contrast to the nothingness of secularity and shows like "Big Brother." Only in Israel, where the elite feels obligated to demonstrate its hypocritical love for the Sephardim through its corrupt leaders, can the Aryeh Deri phenomenon flourish.
In Italy - with all of Berlusconi's right-wing politics - there is a strong left. Italy long ago evolved beyond its fascist stage, and long ago conceded the idea of being an occupying people. Israel, as we know, is still in the throes of this problematic phase. The fact that a conservative government rules Italy does not mean that Israel will automatically become its darling: The Italian street is by nature pro-Palestinian. One should simply recall the mass demonstrations in Rome against Israel during Operation Cast Lead.
Another difference we mustn't forget: Italy is truly European. Italy is in Europe. It doesn't need to dream of being there. But Israel dreams that it is European. Berlusconi played on this dream, declaring in Jerusalem, among the other cliches, that he has a dream that Israel will one day be part of Europe.
This leads us to the other little difference between us: The Italians have learned from bitter experience that leaders' cliches are just cliches, nothing more. But Israelis take cliches and turn them into newspaper headlines - all because the words emerged from the mouth of someone whom they believe is suffering from their own disease.
Isn't there anything in which Israel nevertheless outdoes Italy? Yes - the divine voice of Rita. That's why our famous Israeli diva was hired to sing for Berlusconi on Wednesday, during his visit to the President's Residence. On Monday, Channel 10 news showed her rehearsing the aria by Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), "Chi Vuol La Zingarella," from the opera "I Zingari in Fiera."
Opera, shmopera! Rita declared that, "actually, this song is kind of a popular melody." And the reporter, following her lead, repeated decisively: It is a popular melody. That being the case, well, you can sing it any way you want.
Did poor Paisiello know that one day, in Jerusalem, they'd be trilling his aria in the whiny vibrato of a cantor who is on his last legs? I bet that in his heart Berlusconi was crying right along with her. Where are you, Renata Tebaldi?
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now