Opinion |

Israelis Should Heed Their Declaration of Independence

We mustn't use the Palestinians’ non-recognition of a Jewish state as an excuse for not saving Israel from itself. Israeli democracy needs a constitution based on equality before the law.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
David Ben Gurion flanked by members of his provisional government reading the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948.
David Ben Gurion flanked by members of his provisional government reading the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948.Credit: GPO
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

Oy vey iz mir! “What do the Israelis want?” Ari Shavit asks rhetorically in a piece last month and replies with the answer of the robbed Cossack: “Basic things. A Jewish state, which will reflect the Jewish people’s right to self-definition, protect its life and preserve its heritage.”

If an alien from outer space had read this article he would have gotten the impression the “Israelis” were battered and miserable creatures, all of them Jews of course, suffering a hard life and only desiring to be allowed to breathe.

Because when Shavit wants to be right-wing a wish increasingly apparent to many as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in power lengthens and the symbols of his kingdom multiply he no longer sees the rich State of Israel. (The state is rich, the Israelis are largely poor.)

He no longer sees its strategic weapons, its submarines and planes, the fact that it makes itself a mountain hanging over the heads of millions of Palestinians. He only sees Shimshon der Nebechdiker Samson the Weakling or Poor Little Samson as Prime Minister Levi Eshkol put it in Yiddish.

Ironically, his emotional call to save the weak country (the strong country actually, the people are weak) is heard amid the railway maintenance work on Shabbat and when Barack Obama has a hard time hiding his disgust with Netanyahu’s historical blindness. It’s heard amid young Palestinians’ attacks of despair and fury, facing them an itchy trigger finger that testifies to the shaky principle of the sanctity of life.

It’s hard for the robbed Cossacks to accept a citizenship that means equality before the law. But even given the screams of the Israeli right and the lack of charismatic leaders on the left, one need not look far from the streetlight.

We the Israelis have an answer: the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. There’s no reason for Shavit or any Israeli to be alienated from the Declaration of Independence, which calls for equality for all its citizens, including the Arabs. By any interpretation, the Declaration of Independence is a good foundation for a constitution in Israel.

The right openly offers to abandon the term citizenship when it recasts it with the education minister’s help in favor of a chimera of “majority rule” and “a Jewish state.” But when we hear Jerusalem’s mayor take pride that his city's people rush to “neutralize” any attacker, the Israeli left must renounce the “poor Samson” mentality and the demand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “recognize” the country’s Jewishness as a condition for negotiations.

The right is trying to deny the symbiosis with the Palestinians. But every Israel citizen influences the lives sometimes even the life expectancy of the Palestinians in the territories, more than the other way around. The Israeli government influences the lives of the Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River much more than the Palestinian Authority or Gaza-led Hamas does, the latter an organization that supports terrorism.

We mustn't use the non-recognition of a Jewish state as an excuse for not saving Israel from itself. Israeli democracy needs a constitution based on the Declaration of Independence.

Leftists don’t need to prove they love their homeland. And anyone seeking the left’s resurrection as it rises to a path of shared democratic life should think how to achieve Netanyahu’s departure with a lightning thrust.

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