Our Justice Minister and chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, has just served notice on a far-from-enthralled nation that, regardless of what we may believe, she is somehow the boss. She put herself in charge of our collective conscience. She is the ultimate arbitrator of what’s proper and what’s not.
And in that capacity she denounced Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s intention to enshrine in law Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people. We might of course expect that she’d cheer Netanyahu’s initiative. After all, she enthusiastically extolled the 2005 Disengagement as ensuring the Jewishness of Israel. She never retracted her words, not even when unilateral retreat proved an unmitigated disaster.
But the residue of Livni’s fast fading political prospects doesn’t reside on the Jewish national side of the ideological divide. She, therefore, woos the few voters who maybe might, irrespective of her record, still stick by her.
So, fresh from seeing another of her pretentiously flaunted peace projects come miserably a cropper, Livni pledged to spare no effort to shoot down the Basic Law Netanyahu wants included in Israel’s proto-constitution. His foremost objective is to prevent further distortions by a hardly impartial judiciary that indulges in elaborate interpretations decreed by a tendentious political agenda.
“I will continue to defend the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and will under no circumstance allow anyone to weaken its democratic values and to subordinate them to Jewish ones,” Livni intoned. “That is the essence of the Declaration of Independence and that is the basis for our existence.”
“Just as I opposed such initiatives in the past, I will do the same [again], and it doesn’t matter who is proposing it,” she vowed, taking obvious potshots at Netanyahu.
To be sure, Livni does have a dishonorable history of opposing precursor proposals to what Netanyahu now endorses. Less than a year ago she appointed law professor Ruth Gavison to draft a constitutional provision defining the precise implication of Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” attributes.
With typical hubris and fanfare Livni at the time insisted that this is the “first-ever comprehensive effort” to grapple with the thorny controversy.
That was the last we heard of her dud PR stunt. Livni shamefully roped in Gavison – an Israel Prize winner, a gifted and much-esteemed jurist and a past candidate for Supreme Court justice – to help foil legislation geared to firmly secure the Jewish-state characterization and accord it preference in judicial deliberations.
Ironically, such legislation was first sponsored by none other than MK Avi Dichter, then of Livni’s own Kadima faction. Dichter’s original bill was eventually resubmitted, in an appreciably softened version, by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi).
It was against their joint bill that Livni had last August recruited Gavison and launched her quest for a new “constitutional provision.” Livni thus pitted herself directly against the Levin-Shaked move. Moreover, she unflinchingly claimed that Netanyahu had given his blessing to her pursuit for a “creative new definition.”
Not only was Livni’s assertion hotly denied in Netanyahu’s bureau, but he was reported infuriated by her false declaration. Aides described him, in fact, as “livid.”
Caught in an obvious deception, Livni was forced to back down. Her amended account was that Netanyahu knew about Gavison’s appointment but didn’t support it. The bottom line is that Netanyahu for a while let Livni busy herself with whatever alternative formulations Gavison might concoct for her but he made it abundantly clear that these by no means oblige the government, the prime minister or any other minister.
Now Netanyahu himself has picked up the ball previously tossed into the Knesset arena by Dichter, Levin and Shaked. Now Livni is livid. Netanyahu’s announcement gives the definitive and incontrovertible lie to her contention that he backed her opposition to the Jewish nation-state bill.
But that wasn’t the only instance in which Livni bent the truth in this context. Her prattle about the parity between “democratic” and “Jewish” elements in the Declaration of Independence is utter hokum. Bamboozled members of the public may be unaware that pretensions of parity are bogus but Livni is unlikely to be as clueless. Hence, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that she’s simply disingenuous.
Sadly, Israel’s Declaration of Independence has become the proverbial rope in a curious political tug-of-war. It all has to do with the “democratic and Jewish” catchphrase that has gained broad but unfounded acceptance as the Declaration’s bipolar blueprint for the state’s character.
However, the plain and irrefutable fact is that the word “democratic” doesn’t even appear once in the Declaration. The carefully composed document only cursorily lists assorted individual freedoms (distinct from collective/national ones), “as envisioned by the Prophets of Israel.” Considering the authors’ meticulous attention to every nuance during a series of ultra-exhaustive consultations, this omission was no accident.
Because the Declaration is so often misquoted – because the Livnis in our midst promote a spurious debate on what weight ought to be accorded “democratic” versus “Jewish” components and whether they can at all coexist – we’d do well to delve into how this seminal Israeli text came to be.
The current trend is to use the Declaration to validate ultra-liberal excesses, claiming these to be the spiritual legacy of the Declaration’s presumably postmodern progenitors. To hear latter-day rationalizations, the “Jewish” references in the Declaration were at most incidental and they too smacked of racism – as if a state for the Jewish people perforce negates elementary justice.
Those who spread such fallacies prefer we ignore history.
The UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947 demanded extensive legal and administrative groundwork from both the Arab and Jewish states earmarked to replace the British Mandate. The Arabs, who rejected partition, prepared for war to destroy the burgeoning Jewish state. The Jews took their legalistic obligations in scrupulous earnest.
The preliminary draft of the Declaration of Independence was completed on May 10, 1948. It contained all the constituents that would feature in the final version but the phrasing was different. Not a single one of its sentences survived.
The word “democracy” appears there once, in the fifth paragraph only. Its glaring absence from subsequent revisions indicates that it was erased and deliberately so. This is vital to note, especially given the endless quibbles and quarrels that ensued among the Declaration’s hair-splitting framers over every shade of meaning and fragment of a potential connotation.
There were even heated debates about the name of the state. Then there were arguments about whether God should be mentioned. After prolonged polemics, David Ben-Gurion, who would read out the Declaration and become the country’s first premier, imposed a compromise: “the Rock of Israel.”
Moshe Sharett, in time Israel’s second premier, headed the committee that drafted the second version. It was debated on May 13, less than a day before independence. It contained 22 laborious paragraphs – 12 of which opened with “whereas.” At this point the word “democracy” had already been expunged from the text.
With the deadline mercilessly looming, a new committee was formed to do another rewrite because Sharett’s version was judged too ponderous. Ben-Gurion chaired the last committee and became a hands-on editor. He did the job himself, at home in the middle of the night. His final draft was pithy and powerful. Significantly, he started not with the Jewish exile (as Sharett had) but with this preamble:
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”
This set the tone for the rest. The operative phrase declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, to be known as the state of Israel.”
The comprehensive historical prologue passionately affirmed the Jewish national claim to this country. This was its basic motif and one which was continually and forcefully emphasized. There’s no mistaking the unequivocal preeminence conferred upon the so-called “Jewish component.”
What’s today upheld as the “democratic component” makes a brief appearance only in the third section of the document, which, notably, is also couched in the Jewish idiom:
“The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the Prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Ben-Gurion himself repeatedly stressed that “this is no constitution,” and that the terse reference to civil liberties was required by the Partition Resolution. “We inserted the basic elements demanded of us by the UN,” he explained to members of the Provisional People’s Council (the embryonic parliament), who approved the final version in two rounds of voting, literally just hours before independence was proclaimed.
Nonetheless, in recent years, the Supreme Court has treated the imaginary conjoined “democratic-Jewish” adjective as an unassailable quasi-constitutional directive. Moreover, the justices habitually assign substantially greater weight to “democratic” than to “Jewish.” This is an egregious misreading, assuming that the original had at all been perused.
Critics of the Court’s interventionist proclivities fear that this dynamic might turn Israel into an amorphous “state-for-all-its-citizens” rather than the Jewish nation-state.
Even the great Ben-Gurion didn’t dare to assume sole responsibility for what he insisted (with considerable foresight) was not a constitution-in-disguise. All the more so, constitutional authority cannot be conceivably claimed for Livni’s self-serving affectations.
She obviously isn’t constrained by Ben-Gurion’s sense of circumspection. He treated every iota of every detail in the text with pedantic judiciousness. Livni is his antithesis.
She knows best. Her lack of humility imparts the impression that she won the last elections by a whopping landslide and represents the majority’s vox populi. That this isn’t so – not even remotely so – is in her worldview fundamentally unfair.