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Martin Sherman

Into the Fray: Distorting the Declaration

The focus of Israel’s Declaration of Independence is overwhelmingly on Jewish sovereignty and political independence in the ancestral Jewish homeland—not on liberal democratic governance

As embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the essence of the State of Israel is to be a Jewish and democratic state. Colonel (res.) Adv. Pnina Sharvit Baruch, the Institute for National Security Studies, February 19, 2023.

The Declaration of Independence expresses a deep commitment to freedom, justice and peace in the spirit of the vision of the Biblical prophets— Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute, April 26, 2023.

One of the frequently invoked props, which the opponents of the current coalition brandish in their choreographed frenzy against anything, and all, that the Netanyahu-led government proposes, is Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

The holy grail?

For decades, the Declaration has been a rarely referenced document in the Israeli political debate, but recently, it has been rediscovered and has assumed a revered status as the holy grail of Israeli politics, allegedly embodying all the cherished values and virtues of Zionism.

According to the government’s adversaries, there is an irreconcilable divergence between the contents of the Declaration and the substance of this government’s policy initiatives—particularly the much-maligned judicial reform.

Indeed, the Declaration featured as a prominent prop during the anti-reform demonstrations–with a huge replica being hung from the Tel Aviv municipality building. Elsewhere in the city, another large-scale copy was spread out like a giant carpet in the street.

Listening to the impassioned tirades of the anti-government agitators, one is left to puzzle over whether they have actually read the Declaration themselves or whether they are hoping that their audience has not.

Cherry-picking the Declaration

Thus, a vocal opponent of the proposed judicial reform, “Times of Israel” editor, David Horovitz, writes—accurately but misleadingly: “Our Declaration of Independence promises that the State of Israel ‘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…’”

In similar vein. Pnina Sharvit, head of the law and national security  program at the amply funded think-tank, the Institute for National Security Studies, (INSS),  scolded: “… Israel should be extremely cautious about breaching the delicate balance between the Jewish-nationalist component and the democratic-liberal component of its essence, as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.” 

Likewise, the president of the distinctly left-leaning Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), cherrypicked words from the Declaration, asserting: “The Declaration of Independence expresses a deep commitment to freedom, justice and peace in the spirit of the vision of the Biblical prophets.” 

Politicians pounce

Several Bibi-phobic opposition politicians also pounced on the Declaration in an effort to harness it to its anti-coalition purposes. Thus, Yair Lapid, with his usual superficial mindlessness, proposed that a way out of the judicial impasse would be to compose a constitution, something that has eluded Israeli leaders for almost eight decades, commencing with the Declaration of Independence, which according to him, “expressed the moral heart of the nation.” 

M.K. Benny Gantz repeatedly invoked the Declaration in his regular anti-reform harangues. In one public appearance, he urged that we need to find “a new balance, to recalibrate the way we live with one another…to make us stable and share the same vision,” stipulating that Israel’s Declaration of Independence embodied that vision.

As I mentioned previously, it is difficult to know whether these anti-government Declaration enthusiasts have bothered to read the document they so fervently embrace, or whether they are merely banking on the hope that their audience has not.

After all, the focus of Israel’s Declaration of Independence is overwhelmingly on Jewish sovereignty and political independence in the ancestral Jewish homeland—not on liberal democratic governance.

Prescribing Jewish sovereignty, not liberal democracy

Indeed, the briefest content analysis of the Declaration will reveal that the word “Jew/Jewish” is mentioned over twenty times—virtually always in reference to the exercise of Jewish sovereignty, national independence, and Jewish self-determination. Likewise the term “nation/nationalism” is mentioned over ten times (not including references to the “United Nations” or “League of Nations”). On the other hand, it mentions the word “equal/equality” barely twice, exclusively in the context of civil rights, not national ones. The words “democracy/democratic” or “liberal/liberalism” do not feature at all!

The Declaration, from its very beginning, is replete with references to the historical birthplace of the Jewish people, their connection to the land, their tradition and heritage, and the Bible (“Book of Books”)—all of which are likely to be an anathema to many of the current left-leaning Bibi-phobic demonstrators, now clamoring for its adoption as the centerpiece of their professed socio-political credo.

Indeed, the leadership of the opposition may do well to study the fables of Aesop (629 BCE-584 BCE), who warned:  Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true!

DrMartin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project

About the Author
Dr. Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies a member of the research team of the Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF)-Habithonistim, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project. . He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment, and was a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman also lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees: a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books, as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. Sherman was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971.