Friday, July 20, 2018

Israel Formally Abandons the Democratic Tenets of its Declaration of Independence

David Ben-Gurion reading Declaration of Independence
May 14, 1948
The Israeli Declaration of Independence, made on May 14, 1948, famously promised a liberal democratic state:
"(The state) 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."
In 70 years the state of Israel has not delivered on this promise. This past week, the Knesset passed a "Nation State Law" amending the Basic Law--the closest thing Israel has to a constitution--and formally revoked the promise made in its Declaration of Independence.

Here is the full text of the law (from Jerusalem Post) with my annotations in brackets:

1. The State of Israel
a) Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the state of Israel was established.
b) The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which it actualizes its natural, religious, and historical right for self-determination.
c) The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people. 
[By implication this denies that Israel is also the historical homeland of Palestinians, and it expressly denies the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel for Palestinians. And in order to fully appreciate this, it's important to keep in mind that Israel makes a distinction between "nationhood" (Jewish peoplehood) and citizenship. This bill asserts Jewish nationhood and denies Palestinian nationhood; it officially relegates Palestinans to second class status]

2. National symbols of the State of Israel
a) The name of the state is Israel.
b) The flag of the state is white, two blue stripes near the edges, and a blue Star of David in the center.
c) The symbol of the state is the Menorah with seven branches, olive leaves on each side, and the word Israel at the bottom.
d) The national anthem of the state is "Hatikvah"
e) [Further] details concerning the issue of state symbols will be determined by law. 
[The 20 percent Palestinian citizens of the state are specifically excluded from this symbology]

3. [The] unified and complete [city of] Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

[The annexation of East Jerusalem--eliminating it as a possible capital of a future Palestinian state--is confirmed. It is another formal repudiation of a two-state solution]

4. The Language of the State of Israel
a) Hebrew is the language of the state.
b) The Arabic language has a special status in the state; the regulation of the Arab language in state institutions or when facing them will be regulated by law.
c) This clause does not change the status given to the Arabic language before the basic law was created.
5. The state will be open to Jewish immigration and to the gathering of the exiled.

[This, of course, just repeats what is enshrined in Israel's Law of Return; it was also in the Declaration. As Bernard Avisahi aks rhetorically: "Can a state for world Jewry be a republic of citizens, many of whom are not Jews?" The obvious answer is "no." The state of Israel needs to be a state of its citizens, not a state by and for world Jewry. Talking about "paradigm shifts," this is one that needs to happen]

6. The Diaspora
a) The state will labor to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people and its citizens who are in trouble and captivity due to their Jewishness or their citizenship.
b) The state will act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora. 
7. The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.

[This commits Israel to an ongoing violation of International Law, i.e. transferring its population into an occupied territory. If ongoing Settlement of the West Bank, and its promotion and expansion, is a national value, that clearly is a commitment to Greater Israel---an assertion of continued occupation and eventual sovereignty of the Jewish State over all the land from the river to the sea. It eliminates the Jewish majority. It announces Israel as a non-democratic ethnocracy]

8. The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the secular calendar will serve as an official calendar. The usage of the Hebrew calendar and of the secular calendar will be determined by law.

9. National Holidays
a) Independence Day is the official holiday of the state.
b) The Memorial Day for those who fell in the wars of Israel and the Memorial Day for the Holocaust and heroism are official memorial days of the state.
10. Saturday and the Jewish Holidays are the official days of rest in the state. Those who are not Jewish have the right to honor their days of rest and their holidays. Details concerning these matters will be determined by law.

11. This Basic Law may not be altered except by a Basic Law that gained the approval of the majority of the Knesset members.

[Israel has no constitution. All Basic Laws, which Israel thinks of as constitution like, can be amended in this way. In this case it's a potentially saving grace, although it is difficult to see how any Israeli political majority will rectify this law any time in the foreseeable future]

For context, we would all do well re-reading Bernard Avishai's article in the The Guardian on the occasion of this year's Shavuot.

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