Explaining his party’s decision to exit from the Knesset plenum on Monday and boycott the proceedings surrounding the first reading of two initial bills relating to judicial overhaul, Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman tweeted: “The very vote, even a ‘nay’ vote, is legitimizing a series of laws that contradict the Declaration of Independence, and since [they do], I call on President [Isaac] Herzog not to sign them.”
Israel’s Declaration of Independence was also highlighted during anti-government rallies the preceding Saturday night. A huge replica of the document was spread out, like a massive carpet, on a street in Tel Aviv.
Elsewhere in the White City, protesters marched around holding a similarly massive one above ground. Others carried long banners with a quote from the Declaration, in Hebrew and English, reading, “The State of Israel will be founded on freedom, justice and peace.”
Two days earlier, Yom Kippur War veterans invoked the document, as well. The now-aging retired IDF soldiers placed a blown-up copy of it on the side of a tank that they stole from a memorial site in the Golan Heights to use as a prop in the protests and signed their names to it. Meanwhile, a separate armored vehicle from the existential 1973 battle was nicked from the area and bore the sign in block-capital English letters: “Defending Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”
It’s no accident that many of the streamers and posters waved in the ongoing demonstrations – held, ostensibly, to decry the ruling coalition’s judicial-reform moves, but actually staged in reaction to the rise of a “full, full, right-wing government” in Jerusalem – are in English. For one thing, foreign NGOs are paying for them, with help from the US State Department. For another, they’re much more photogenic when written in a language that CNN and the BBC can broadcast internationally without subtitles.
WHAT CLEARLY has gotten lost in translation, however, is that most of the Israelis swayed by the fear-mongering of the protest leaders, who warn that the country is on the verge of becoming Nazi Germany, have no clue about the history of their own judicial system. Many don’t realize that its radical transformation was undertaken more than a quarter of a century ago by then-Supreme Court president Aharon Barak.
Indeed, few of those in hysteria mode today refuse to see that the moves by the legislature aim to strengthen, not destroy, Israeli democracy. An even smaller number of those pounding the pavement along with their fists is likely to have studied the proposed laws and amendments that are causing them such apoplexy.
Nor do they seem to understand the meaning of the Declaration of Independence that they’ve been touting so fiercely. To be fair, lots of judicial-reform supporters aren’t any better-versed in the above than their counterparts on the Left.
BUT ONE thing the former feels and the latter seems to have forgotten is the spirit, if not the letter, of the Declaration. A review of relevant passages sheds light on the current societal divide where both Zionism and jurisprudence are concerned.
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people,” it begins. “Here, their spiritual, religious, and national identity was formed. Here, they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here, they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.”
It continues: “Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom. Impelled by this historic association, Jews strove throughout the centuries to go back to the land of their fathers and regain their statehood... In the year 1897, the First Zionist Congress, inspired by Theodor Herzl’s vision of the Jewish State, proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national revival in their own country. This right was acknowledged by the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, and reaffirmed by the Mandate of the League of Nations, which gave explicit international recognition to the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and their right to reconstitute their national home.”
It goes on: “On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Resolution for the establishment of an independent Jewish State in Palestine... This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their independent state may not be revoked... Accordingly, we, the members of the National Council, representing the Jewish people in Palestine and the Zionist movement of the world... hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called Israel.”
The next section relates to the “setting up of the duly elected bodies of the state in accordance with a constitution [that is] to be drawn up by a Constituent Assembly not later than the first day of October 1948.”
Nevertheless, due to a lack of consensus on its contents, a constitution wasn’t written. A main opponent to its crafting was Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. He argued that the newly established state had far more pressing issues to tackle.
The upshot of the debate was a compromise that came to be known as the “Harari Resolution,” which was adopted by the first Knesset in the summer of 1950. It “instructs the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to prepare a draft State Constitution [to be] built chapter by chapter, in such a way that each will constitute a separate Basic Law. The chapters shall be presented to the Knesset when the committee completes its work, and all the chapters together shall comprise the Constitution of the state.”
More than four decades later, Barak announced that the Supreme Court would henceforth not only interpret Knesset laws, but also determine their “validity or invalidity.” It is this undemocratic power grab from the public’s elected representatives that the current coalition is in the process of rectifying.
The bigger picture is missing
IT’S NOT surprising that the protest leaders aren’t presenting the bigger picture, given their ideological agenda. And it doesn’t come as a shock that the phrase of the Declaration of Independence selected for emphasis – “liberty, justice and peace” – leaves out that these precepts, according to the document, are “taught by the Hebrew Prophets.”
Naturally, that’s not the sentiment the doomsayers claiming the country is about to morph into a totalitarian theocracy are trying to convey. Ditto with regard to the rest of the Declaration’s wording or to the way it concludes:
“In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the state, with full and equal citizenship and the representation in all its bodies and institutions, provisional or permanent. We offer peace and amity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.”
Since this is precisely what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent his career cultivating, his foes would rather skip over that part. They surely don’t dare refer to the second-to-last paragraph, which “[calls] out to the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations – the redemption of Israel.”
After all, the Yair Lapid-led opposition has been urging the Diaspora to fight the Israeli government and join in the attempt, worthy of the Jewish state’s worst enemies, to delegitimize it. The good news is that the majority sides with the principles of the state’s founders. Yes, the bulk of the public sees the Israeli flag as an expression of Zionism, not–as Lapid and his ilk view it – “a symbol of the struggle.”