The All New Annotated Israeli Declaration of Independence
In the hullabaloo over the new Nation-State Law (see here, here and here), some people say the new Basic Law should have repeated certain parts of what is in the Declaration of Independence. I decided to check out the Declaration for myself and was surprised by some of what I read there. I thought it merited an article all on its own, therefore, so I copied it from the Knesset website, pasted it below, and added my own notes. This is followed by an analysis of the Declaration and a concluding note relevant to Israel today.
Provisional Government of Israel
Official Gazette: Number 1; Tel Aviv, 5 Iyar 5708, 14.5.1948 Page 1
The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel
|Text of the Declaration||My Notes|
|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 is the very definition
of an indigenous nation.
|After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.||This is the true definition of refugees, and, after having become refugees, the Jews never gave up the dream of returning to our indigenous sacred lands. But we did not wallow in self-pity all this time, we established successful communities wherever we were.|
|Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, defiant returnees, and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.||Throughout history our sacred indigenous homeland was a magnet. While our native language was kept alive in the Diaspora by prayer and study of scripture, once home, we revived Hebrew as the living language of the land. And look at all we accomplished even before our modern state was declared. This is the way to prepare infrastructure for statehood. We have much to be proud of.|
|In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.||Herzl makes it clear this is the national REBIRTH in our own country. Israel was not created by any foreign body like PM Theresa May claims, it was REBORN on our ancient indigenous land.|
|This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.||International recognition was afforded to the right of the Jewish people to REBUILD its own national homeland.|
|The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people - the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe - was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.||Again, talking about the re-establishment of the Jewish national home. Also note how the Declaration states that the Holocaust was not the only, but merely ANOTHER demonstration of the need for us to rebuild our home. The impending cleansing of Arab countries of their Jews followed shortly after and these refugees now had their homeland to take them in.|
|Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.||They did not know then about the waves of Jews from the former USSR and from Ethiopia who would come home as well, the latter travelling via extremely perilous routes to make it home. And the future of Jews in Europe and North America looks precarious. Israel is here for them as well.|
|In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.||The Jews were not only victims of the Holocaust; Jews of Mandatory Palestine also participated in fighting the Nazis (for example, the Jewish Brigade).|
|On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.||UNGA recognized the right of the Jewish People to establish our modern Jewish state. However, it does seem as if they are currently preoccupied with trying to undo that.|
|This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.||Now we just have to learn how to act like the sovereign state that we are. Seventy years later, we are still struggling with learning what it means to be masters of our own fate.|
|Accordingly we, members of the People's Council, representatives of the Jewish Community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.||What an absolutely
glorious statement this is!
|We declare that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People's Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People's Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called "Israel."||And so the democratic processes in Israel begin! Unfortunately, the constitution never came about. It seems our leaders were hoping to have a constitution already at the time of this Declaration, but they could not agree on its content, so better to have this Declaration than nothing at all. Sometimes practicality needs to take precedence over lofty goals.|
|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.||Our spiritual traditions as laid down in the Tanach and the writings of our sages define us as a society that respects equality and freedom for all. We will not risk this just society and so we will jealously safeguard Israel as the Jewish homeland to which all Jews are invited to join. Unfortunately, we do not really know how to protect our own religious rights in our Holy Places. It comes from lack of confidence in our worthiness and inexperience in being sovereign in our own land. (I do not understand why they had to inject the UN here, especially in light of what has become of that organization.)|
|The State of Israel is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.||This paragraph refers to the partition plan, UNGA Resolution 181. Good thing this document is not a constitution! But I do wonder at the impact of this paragraph on later Israeli Supreme Court rulings given that the Declaration has been applied to legal decisionmaking. (h/t to the son of a friend who explained this paragraph to me)|
|We appeal to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the community of nations.||This is an unfortunate sentence that can be attributed to the naivety of thinking that the UN actually wanted to help the Jewish state succeed.|
|We appeal - in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months - to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.||The Arabs living in Israel were invited to take part as full and equal citizens, to contribute to the development of the country and to enjoy all rights coming to them as citizens. Recent history clearly shows that they are not interested in being citizens of Israel but of replacing Israel. On the other hand, other minority communities are quite happy being part of the Jewish state and we must remember not to lump them all together.|
|We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.||While our Arab neighbours were beating drums of war, we still tried to appeal to them to accept the tiny Jewish state and work together for the good of the entire Middle East. I believe that we should always be open to peace and ready for war. And we should not be shy about the latter, nor make empty declarations of our preparedness until ready to act.|
|We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream - the redemption of Israel.||Israel is here for the entire Diaspora; this paragraph expresses the hope that the Diaspora is here for Israel. We have still not found the proper balance between caring for Jews in the Diaspora and caring too much about what they think we in Israel should be doing.|
|Placing our trust in the Almighty, we affix our signatures to this proclamation at this session of the provisional Council of State, on the soil of the Homeland, in the city of Tel-Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the 5th day of Iyar, 5708 (14th May, 1948).||The only ones we can trust
are ourselves and God.
Daniel Auster Mordekhai Bentov Yitzchak Ben Zvi Eliyahu Berligne Fritz Bernstein Rabbi Wolf Gold Meir Grabovsky Yitzchak Gruenbaum Dr. Abraham Granovsky Eliyahu Dobkin Meir Wilner-Kovner Zerach Wahrhaftig Herzl Vardi Rachel Cohen Rabbi Kalman Kahana Saadia Kobashi Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin Meir David Loewenstein Zvi Luria Golda Myerson Nachum Nir Zvi Segal Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Fishman David Zvi Pinkas Aharon Zisling Moshe Kolodny Eliezer Kaplan Abraham Katznelson Felix Rosenblueth David Remez Berl Repetur Mordekhai Shattner Ben Zion Sternberg Bekhor Shitreet Moshe Shapira Moshe Shertok
An Analysis of the Declaration of Independence
In 1998, former Attorney General and Supreme Court Judge Elyakim Rubenstein wrote a paper analyzing the Declaration of Independence 50 years after the establishment of the modern State of Israel. (You can read the entire article online at no cost here.) I will only raise a few points here.
Rubenstein discusses differences in opinion among those involved in putting together the Declaration. He suggests that Ben Gurion walked a tightrope among those with opposing views, wanting to achieve what was possible to achieve at the moment, rather than achieve nothing (such as by accepting partition and by leaving out of the Declaration certain issues, such as that of borders.)
When the question arose regarding whether or not something was legal, Ben Gurion’s response is so relevant to us today as we struggle over the conflicts between the legislative and judicial branches of government:
Ben-Gurion: Law is a matter that human beings decide. [page 197]
Due respect is given to international law, but political considerations were seen as being within the jurisdiction of democratically-
elected officials. [page 197]
Then Rubenstein asks:
A more interesting and practical question, one that has legal implications, is the status of the Declaration in Israeli courts. Is it equivalent to a Constitution, or is it a only an historical proclamation? Does it have the authority to entitle freedom of religion, conscience, speech, education, and culture? Is it a recognized force in Israeli courts for granting equality to every citizen regardless of religion, race, or gender? Can the Declaration be considered a bona fide source upon which to interpret the law? What is the meaning of the “positive anchoring” of the Declaration’s principles in the “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” and the “Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation”?
The Declaration itself did not pretend to act as a constitution. [page 198]
Rubenstein claims that the courts, when presented with situations that could be interpreted in a number of different ways, preferred to make decisions that corresponded to what they believed conformed with the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. In this way, the Declaration of Independence is a living document, one that is coming alive in the growing collection of Basic Laws that it has inspired.
With the growing divisiveness of our society, where individual rights have moved far ahead of collective rights, Rubenstein sees hope in the Declaration of Independence:
The Declaration of Independence, to the eternal foresight of its designers, first and foremost among them Ben-Gurion, can serve, and perhaps with greater force, as a national unifier, because it is based on moral values with which the vast majority of the country’s citizens identify. These include equality, freedom of religion and conscience, and the rest of the basic human rights. The collective experience of a melting-pot through which the State of Israel was established; the continual effort to arrive at peace with the neighbors; the bonds between Eretz Israel and the Jewish people in the Diaspora; and the Jewish people’s rights to its own country replete with cultural treasures, a pioneering ethos, the common endeavor in shouldering the burden; the courage; the tenacity in achieving national goals... [page 205]
It is important to remember that Ben Gurion and other leaders in 1948 were focused on the struggle for survival and independence of the collective. After only a few generations of Israelis were born into this free sovereign nation, attention turned toward individualism. The fact that a consensus was achieved, at that early stage, balancing, in the Declaration of Independence, between collectivist national concerns and individualistic civil rights concerns is one Rubenstein finds admirable. In this respect, however, Rubenstein identified a lacuna:
But when all is said and done, the state is a Jewish, democratic state in all respects, without defining precisely the meaning of “Jewish.” [page 207-8]
And we still cannot agree on what it means to be Jewish!
A Lesson the Declaration of Independence Holds for Us Now
Not much time was available to our leaders to put together the Declaration of Independence. A way had to be found to quickly compose a document that would be agreeable to all in spite of their strong disagreements with each other. With survival on the line, they did it. Unfortunately, we are a nation still in survival mode because of very real external and internal threats. But we are also in trauma mode because we have not yet had the time to resolve our individual and collective traumatic pasts. This means that we do not always operate with calm rational thought processes. I am referring to the political and judicial leadership, but also to society at the level of the general population. This leads to the situation pointed out by Rubenstein in which our Basic Laws
were formulated in a clumsy convoluted way. [page 406-7]
We cannot afford to continue to function in this manner. The latest uproar over the Nation-State Law shows us that. The Declaration of Independence spoke to internal characteristics of the new State as well as to external realities. The authors of the Declaration did not ignore the context in which they found themselves. Our government, and all of us, in fact, must also keep in mind our internal and external contexts in all its permutations.
We are a work in progress. I suggest everyone take a deep breath and show patience toward one another as we continue to develop as the amazing nation that we are. And let us never stop debating in our loud and brusque manner. It is one Israeli characteristic I particularly appreciate, hard as it is to take sometimes.