Exploring Israeli unity as an ideology - opinion

The writer explores the differences in terminology and definitions of the Jewish, democratic and security pillars.

 THE LEFT and Center embraced the constitutional revolution of Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, says the writer.  (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
THE LEFT and Center embraced the constitutional revolution of Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, says the writer.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)

Two weeks ago, I discussed the emergence of a New National Camp (NNC) and provided some historical background. I explained the difference between the center and the middle of the political spectrum. Last week, I proposed placing the four Zionist camps into a triangle instead of a linear spectrum. Based on this premise, I presented a new vision for how to view Israel: as a Jewish, democratic and secure state.

In the last piece of this series, I will complete the picture by exploring the differences in terminology and definitions of the Jewish, democratic and security pillars.

Jewish state

How do we define Jewish? Is Judaism a civilization, culture, ethnicity, heritage, nationality, race, religion, or tradition?

The Basic Law: Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People, adopted in 2018, granted a constitutional definition as the realization of “natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.”

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gestures at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 16, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gestures at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 16, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

It determined that the national flag, national symbol, national anthem, national holidays, national rest days and national capital be symbols of Jewish heritage. It enshrined the principal language and calendar as Hebrew, the right of all Jews to return to their homeland, the connection of Israel to the Jewish Diaspora and promoted Jewish settlement as a national value.

In the past, the Left and the Center emphasized the historical and cultural definitions, while the Right stressed the natural, nationalist and religious ones. Today, following the split into four camps, the Left focuses on the cultural aspect of Judaism, the Center on historical and heritage, the NNC on the natural right of a people to their own nation-state, and the old Right on religion and tradition.

Many ultra-Orthodox view the Jewish state within the prism of Halacha, Jewish law. Post-Zionists and Anti-Zionists object to the Jewish state and the very idea of national rights for Jews. The Basic Law’s definition of a Jewish state and its application considers all four Zionist camps, which represent almost the whole Israeli political spectrum.

Democratic state

Democracy has Jewish roots. The Hebrew Bible promotes the separation of powers by distributing responsibility between the King, the prophets, the priests, the Levites, the judges, the police and the elders. Jewish law includes many basic human rights among its commandments.

The modern state of Israel started out as a democracy in progress. From 1958 until 1988 the Israeli Knesset passed nine Basic Laws that determined the democratic institutions of the country. It enshrined within constitutional law in Israel’s legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Other democratic institutions and extensions of government that received this special constitutional status under Israeli law included the president, the state comptroller, the capital, the military, the economy, and the land.

In 1992 the Knesset passed two basic laws, Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, which determined the individual rights of Israel’s citizens. These vital Basic Laws provided individual rights to all citizens on a constitutional level that went beyond Israel’s institutional democracy and enshrined Israel as the first Middle Eastern country to be a liberal democracy.

THESE LAWS started the public debate on the definition of Israel as a democratic state. The Left and Center embraced the constitutional revolution of justice Aharon Barak. The right challenged the idea the courts could extend Judicial Review to practically all matters. The left and center would later split on the line between democratic values and national security interests, particularly on matters relating to defensive democracy.

The Right split on nuances relating to judicial review of the executive and legislative branches. Additionally, the issue of government corruption split the Right, as three of the four old-Right party leaders were dealing with severe legal issues during the last election campaign.

Secure state

What was David Ben-Gurion thinking when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that Israel was a country “loving peace but knowing how to defend itself?” I believe it was a national security doctrine.

The Basic Law: The Military does not define security or what it means to live in a secure state. For a long time, the Left and Right were divided as the Right defined itself as the security camp and the Left as the peace camp. Over time, the old Right’s marriage to the ultra-Orthodox parties moved the camp away from security to the Jewish side of the triangle. The center moved rightward in policy to embrace security interests.

Today, there are differences in opinion among the four camps on this issue. The Left still favors collective security and democratic peace theory. The Center stresses the necessity of a tangible QME (Qualitative Military Edge) over our enemies. The NNC relies on a coercive diplomacy policy mix of deterrence and compellence.

The old-Right continues to view security primarily through the lens of self-reliance. After legislating Basic Laws that define the democratic nature of the state, both institutional and liberal based individual rights, and more recently, the place of national referendums and the character of the Jewish state, I believe it is time to discuss the next chapter: The Basic Law: Security.

With this final piece, we can complete our collection of plans and policies that comprise the state’s deliberate effort to harness political, military, diplomatic and economic tools to advance our national interest as a Jewish, democratic and secure state.

The middle of the triangle

The Left, Center and old Right have different basic assumptions about a variety of topics and, therefore, arrive at different conclusions.

Placed in the middle of the triangle, the NNC is in a unique position to appreciate the different definitions of Jewish, democracy and security. Finding the common denominator between the different camps is not just pragmatic real-politics, it is an ideological choice to place the unity of the nation above all.

On a practical level, how can the NNC take this theory to action and move forward in the next election, whenever that date might be? Last weekend, for the first time, two scenario polls were conducted examining the possibility of the three current NNC parties running together on one list.

The Jerusalem Post poll gave the NNC 12 seats together compared to 15 separately. The other poll gave the NNC 15 seats together compared to 14 separately. What the two scenario polls have in common is that the NNC would enter the campaign season with an opening position in double digits and would become the third largest faction in the Knesset.

It is too early to determine the best electoral path forward. This is the time in the NNC’s evolution for the Prime Minister to step up to the plate and lead his camp down the middle path. If he does the benefit to the nation will be long-term leadership that takes all Israelis into account.

An in-depth look at the NNC, its vision and grand strategy will be available in my forthcoming book.

The writer was a candidate on the Yamina list for the 24th Knesset election.