Respect please!

David Ben-Gurion signs the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. Moshe Sharett is on the right

David Ben-Gurion signs the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. Moshe Sharett is on the right

Some democracies – certainly not all – were bequeathed formative documents formulated by prescient founding fathers who deliberately devoted utmost care to address every conceivable future interpretation. The least such seminal documents deserve is special deference from the nations fortunate enough to have inherited them.

They most certainly don’t deserve to be expediently turned into the proverbial rope in a political tug-of-war. Sadly, our Declaration of Independence – doubtless Israel’s most basic and vital text – is being misused in precisely this manner.

It all has to do with the “democratic and Jewish” catchphrase that has gained broad but unsubstantiated acceptance as the Declaration’s bipolar blueprint for the state’s character.

It’s perfectly acceptable that some politicians would oppose the Jewish State Law. That’s their democratic prerogative. Without taking sides in the raging controversy, what should trouble us is the disingenuous attempt to base current political positions on words written in 1948 and which in no shape or form conform to what’s now attributed to them.

Thus Finance minister Ya’ir Lapid asserts that David Ben-Gurion would have disapproved of the Jewish State bill. Lapid even mobilized posthumous backing from Menachem Begin and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Because the Declaration, personally authored by Ben-Gurion,  is so often misquoted – in the artificial debate on what weight ought to be accorded “democratic” versus “Jewish” components and whether they can at all coexist – we’d do well to actually read it and delve into how it came to be.

The preliminary draft of the Declaration, completed on May 10, 1948, features the word “democracy” once, in the fifth paragraph only. Its glaring absence from subsequent revisions indicates that it was erased and intentionally so. It’s imperative to note this, especially given the endless quibbles and quarrels that ensued among the Declaration’s hair-splitting framers over every shade of meaning and fragment of potential connotation.

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. At this point the word “democracy” had already been expunged from the text.

Ben-Gurion then became sole hands-on editor. His final draft’s comprehensive historical prologue passionately affirmed the Jewish national claim to this country. This was the essential motif – continually and forcefully emphasized.

The word “democratic” is entirely missing. The Declaration Ben-Gurion produced only cursorily lists assorted fundamental individual (as indisputably distinct from collective/national) freedoms “in the light of the vision of the prophets of Israel.”

Considering the meticulous attention to every nuance during a series of ultra-exhaustive consultations on quite literally the eve of the state’s birth, this omission was no accident.

Nonetheless, in recent years, the Supreme Court has treated the Declaration’s imaginary conjoined “Jewish-democratic” adjective as an unassailable quasi-constitutional directive. Moreover, more frequently than not, the justices confer substantially greater weight to “democratic” than to “Jewish.”

Critics of the Court’s interventionist proclivities see this as a dynamic that might turn Israel into an amorphous “state-for-all-its-citizens” at the direct expense of its “national-state-of-the-Jewish-people” designation.

During the last Knesset’s term, this sufficiently alarmed MK Avi Dichter – then of Tzipi Livni’s own Kadima faction – to submit legislation that would firmly secure the Jewish state characterization and accord it preference in judicial deliberations. Dichter’s original bill has now been resubmitted, in a significantly softened version.

Nevertheless, it is opposed – principally by Justice Minister Livni and Lapid – as grossly violating the embryonic constitution and spiritual legacy of the Declaration’s presumably postmodern progenitors. But did Ben-Gurion and the committee that approved his choice of words really intend their Declaration as a proto-constitution to validate discrepant political fashions decades later?

It’s important to stress that Ben-Gurion repeatedly argued that “this is no constitution,” and that the terse reference to civil liberties was required by the General Assembly Partition Resolution. “We inserted the basic elements demanded of us by the UN,” he explained to members of the Provisional People’s Council (Israel’s emergent parliament).

Ben-Gurion treated every iota of every detail with pedantic judiciousness. The least we owe him and his colleagues is to respect their sense of circumspection and the Declaration they left us.

8 thoughts on “Respect please!

  1. Why wasn’t this brought up during Knesset arguments? Why didn’t someone call Lapid on his statement about BenGurion? Why doesn’t Israel bring up obvious facts — the Bible, San Remo, League of Nations, purposely avoiding “all” in UN resolution to name a few —- over & over again. What ever happened to the phrase “eternal undivided capital” when referring to Jerusalem. (The arabs now use that.) The arabs have repeated lies over and over again, and now people believe them. I understand that many of the lies were so ridiculous that they didn’t deserve a response, but apparently a response was and is still necessary — over and over again. It may be too late, but we have to try, anyway. And we mustn’t lose Ron Dermer, Ron Proser, Bibi, Bennett, and others who speak very very well, and also think very very well.

  2. “Jewish” is the defining term and “democratic” is the descriptive term, it doesn’t matter that the descriptive term appears first…where is the problem ?

  3. Irrespective of anything else Israel is first and foremost a Jewish State period. Democracy and everything else come after that.

  4. Israel’s most essential value, as I see it, is as a Sanctuary State. If the Arabs ever became more numerous, a democracy would mean the end of all that. The Arabs proved so, absolutely and indisputably, in the thirties. They like to say they didn’t light the fires of the holocaust, the Europeans did. True, but they sealed the fire doors. We may prefer the language and the culture of our individual diasporae but if it ever becomes like it always has, Israel is survival. I’m unwilling to give that up for a parade.

  5. Interesting. Thanks for the historical information.

    Well, not having a constitution does present a problem of how to get one. Because every republic should have a supreme law. There is already a supreme law, that is natural law.

    Natural justice provides an objective standard by which to judge human actions involving force against other humans. This applies to all natural persons, in all places, for all time.

    Constitutions should reflect this natural law. But human are imperfect and cannot know with certainly exactly what this law entails. We cannot simply start with axioms and deductively apply to circumstances.

    Rather, we should start inductively and through analysis, derive and compile what is in common to all positive legal systems. We may safely assume that this common law approximates natural law (Jus Gentium approximates Jus Naturale).

    The 12 tablets of Rome provide the seed from which these ideas became known and brought about the modern era. The ideas in this supreme constitution are universal, but through competition w arrive at better and better approximations of true law.

    Thus there is no necessary contradiction between nationalism and universalism.

    Now, as relates to culture, Judaism could be considered a paleo-humanism or an ancient science, rather than a religion. So, there is no necessary contradiction between a Jewish state and a secular state.

  6. I repeat here what I know to be true. The God of the extreme left today is The God of the extreme left is none other than Ben Gurion. Yet they act as if he did not declare the birth of the Jewish state of Israel. They ignore the national anthem, the Hatikva, The flag based on the Talit, the Menorah as the symbol of the Jewish state of Israel. There is no need to cast vote to decide if Israel is the state of the Jewish nation. It was from day one in 1948. What kind of Jews would vote against Israel being the state of the Jewish nation?

  7. The current clamor against a Jewish state shows that Jewish freedom and life are under deadly attack and must be staunchly defended within and without.

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