The Declaration of Independence states that Israel is Jewish and democratic in equal measures. Any law which therefore defines Israel as Jewish above all else (as opposed to Jewish and democratic) makes democracy subservient to faith.
The conflict between religious and secular jurisdiction over issues of personal status is complicated by Israel’s early modern history. When the new state was born it was less than three years after the defeat of Nazism. In Israel, the Jewish faith, as a religious institution, was viewed as endangered. Israel’s secular rulers absolved themselves of any responsibility for issues of personal status by encouraging traditional religious bodies to exercise authority without statutory boundaries. This sowed the seeds for both the reinvigoration of orthodoxy and its political empowerment.
The state was conflicted – indifferent to religious faith at the same time as it accepted the orthodox stream of Judaism as the only one exercising legitimacy. The state ignored the abuses religious hegemony created because it was reluctant to become involved in a religious debate.
Any political culture is open to abuse but an inexperienced, immature political culture without a tradition of legal oversight and practical control will be subjected to continuous testing as to the limits of what constitutes legitimate authority.
Once the period of ideologically led consolidation was over (the first 20 to 30 years of independence) what had been understandable “accommodation” in order to help to develop and give strength to state institutions and bureaucracies became state sanctioned corruption. Transparency is not a welcome participant amongst the political herd. As political movements, all parties naturally saw abuse of political – economic power as a means of asserting and maintaining their ideological legitimacy, however, patronage and personal aggrandizement are all part of a corrupted political establishment.
I recall a group of enthusiastic and idealistic young adults explaining their plans to a ranking member of the government who “knowing what was ‘best’ for them” had no intention of acquiescing to a single point they made. The arrogance of a patriarchal political culture begets contempt for constituencies because certainty of purpose is central to their political philosophy. There is no such thing as a transparent back room deal! In a dysfunctional democracy politics is not the art of compromise (the golden mean) but an act of will by an individual or a group exercising control over the rest of us.
A misunderstanding of the nature of democracy is at fault. Democracy is more than “one person one vote.” If the government fails to support the people they lose faith in government. An abusive culture is created that exploits tribal identification and within a tribal culture, elites become more important than law (because influence is hierarchical and authoritarian).
To quote Murray Kahl:
“Emerging governments must demonstrate they can resolve problems faced by the citizenry, such as crime, insurrection, general economic growth, secure freedom and the rule of law.” (And additionally, in Israel’s case: terrorism and hostile missile activity).
Democracies fail because they do not uphold the nations’ laws, no matter how imperfect those laws may be.
The Declaration of Independence is clear:
- Israel is to be a state of Jewish immigration aliyah and of “the ingathering of the exiles.” This principle was set forth in legal and practical terms in the Law of Return, passed two years later (1950);
- Israel is to be a state of development for the benefit of all its inhabitants;
- Perhaps most importantly, Israel is to be a state based on the fundamentals of freedom, justice and peace, a state in which all the inhabitants will enjoy equality of social and political rights, along with freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.
The document continues: The state will be guided by the principles of justice enunciated by “the prophets of Israel” and it calls for the Arabs to participate in building the state.
The state was founded by secular people but their big idea was imbued with Jewish ethical considerations as well as Jewish historical visions. Israel’s founders could not have foreseen a future where the states Arabs and the extreme Left would abuse their rights of statehood or that Israel’s external enemies would actively coordinate a campaign with Israel’s internal enemies in order to delegitimize Jewish history and even, to deny Jewish attachment to Jerusalem as diplomatic continuation of the war against Jewish independence.
So Israel can reaffirm the principles of the Declaration of Independence. It could also act on them in order to demonstrate their relevance.
Israel should attack the racist campaign of delegitimization, in every forum, in every interview and in every debate. None of the fine words in Israel’s Declaration of Independence are of any consequence if Israel’s diplomats and politicians do not respond to every libel against the state and not just by comparing its actions to its enemies, but also by attacking those in the Muslim world and in liberal-left circles who undermine the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
One of Israel’s former justice ministers (Professor Daniel Friedman) said that “declarative laws don’t have the power to solve theoretical or social disputes” but what he seems to have missed is the whole point of having them in the first place. They create a framework and a vision for Israel’s legislators to work towards achieving.
Emerging states have a lot to prove. They must demonstrate they can resolve the issues that confront their nation, equitably. Issues of identity, unity and protection are all equal in importance and underlying all of them is perception, which governs everything.
Failing states do so because they fail to act on discrimination. But there is a greater responsibility for minorities to integrate when a national framework already exists. Integration does not necessarily mean assimilation. And because discrimination in society can be from both sides what it also does not mean is separate development and most definitely what it does not mean is separate laws that run counter to the national ethos.
There is a difference between civil rights, which remain equal and national rights that can be synonymous with a divisive tribal identity. There will be people who argue that to survive in the Near East you must adopt the attitude and behaviors of the environment in which you live. So a toxic culture of bigotry is acceptable? This may well be the Arab way but it goes against everything Zionism believes in. Herzl’s Zionism envisioned Jew and Arab living in one nation, equal and prosperous. Israel’s identity as a Jewish state does not negate that vision.
Israel’s identity as a Jewish state is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Israel’s symbols, its flag, its education system, its day of rest on Saturday, all these things are central to the identity of its citizens even if they are not personally central to an individual’s minority identity.
It is here that government in Israel has failed spectacularly. By not involving itself in religious law it has created sectarian religious conflict; by not imposing sanction on those who agitate against Israeli Arab identification with the country of their birth (Israel) the government has helped to poison the issue of national identity.
As a consequence of the proposed Nation State Law Arabic would have lost its status as one of the two official languages of Israel. This ignores the reality of Arab culture. Most Arabs are fluent in Hebrew so to remove its status is provocative and discriminates without providing any sensible justification. 70% of Israel’s Arabs describe themselves as Palestinian – only 30% describe themselves as Israeli. Bullying will not reverse those statistics. What will reverse them is working together to create a unified nation. The Arab parties are racist parties which exist to play the Palestinian identity card and therefore to maintain separation (apartheid). The Arab political parties are impediments to Israeli unity.
No Israeli politician has had the courage to tackle this violent and bigoted opposition to integration. The irony is that those parties vying for the title of “Zionist” completely miss the point because ethnic integration is at the heart of the Zionist enterprise.
Turkey suppresses the Kurdish language as does Syria. There is little to no room for minority recognition anywhere in the Near-East. But not just in the Muslim world. If Putin needed a pretext for his invasion of Crimea it was the removal of Russian as one of Ukraine’s official languages. It was a decision that Ukraine recognized in hindsight as disastrous and it has been reversed.
The final impediment to Israeli national unity is foreign interference in its internal affairs. Since the establishment of the State of Israel nations have worked without respite to undermine the legitimacy and the identity of the Jewish State. NGO’s (non-government organizations) continue to receive significant foreign funding through mainly western governments and western churches. It is they that have actively sought to delegitimize the Zionist and Jewish agendas. Aaron David Miller describes the Arab states as “nothing more than tribes with flags.” In Israel, foreign funding has been used to encourage that tribalism and fragmentation.
Jewish history is being denied, denigrated and damned. Instead of demanding the cessation of subversive foreign funding Israel should regulate it. As happens in the USA, any foreign funding must go along with formal registration of any recipient organization, as the local agency of a foreign entity. Any activity promoting disunity must be actively discouraged.
But more important than even this issue, in the long term a nation needs a vision to survive. The USA has its exceptionalism through which its capitalist version of democracy has spread globally – Iran has its theocratic vision of a world ruled by and for the Islamic faithful. It informs and instructs the direction of its foreign policy.
What is depressing about the Israeli elections for the 20th Knesset? There is no self-evident vision; there are no fundamental principles being extolled by the Zionist camp. The talent is wholly missing from the political arena.
The Jewish people are too often harangued for being either too legalistic or too philosophic and in both cases it is meant to say that Jews are not anchored in the real world. It seems that Israel’s politicians are so cynically anchored in the real world that they are incapable of working for the common good. The multiplicity of parties zealously guarding their own parochial privileges are incapable of sublimating their own crude desires for the greater cause that is served by promulgating a vision of unity and amity.
That is the depressing issue that Israel’s more attuned voters had to confront when voting for the Twentieth Knesset on Tuesday 17th March 2015.
God Save Israel from her politicians.