The Second Israeli Democracy

The status quo has not been static for a long time now. It's dynamic and moving in one direction: toward religiosity, not necessarily religiosity of the pleasant kind.

If I were prime minister I would feel very uneasy these days. Something is wrong, I would tell myself on Independence Day, the day of national spiritual stocktaking. Having no other choice, I would close myself off from the world and think. I would conclude that the first State of Israel was fading on my watch.

Nothing is as it was. The mythic settlement of the land has become a bone of contention, large-scale immigration has ended, the army is no longer the people's army, and solidarity has been discarded. The legal and judicial systems, religion and community are under attack and collapsing one by one, all during my term. There is no choice, I would conclude, but to take dramatic steps to change the situation fundamentally.

I would take a piece of paper and draw a map of the Israeli fragmentation. I would try to steer the path of society and the state far from the abysses opening beneath it. Women's exclusion from the public domain, which has given me sleepless nights, was actually the tip of another iceberg: the question of questions about religion and state.

I have to admit: The status quo has not been static for a long time now. It's dynamic and moving in one direction: toward religiosity, not necessarily religiosity of the pleasant kind. Despite my great respect for tradition and heritage - the heritage of my father's house - I am bound to a human sovereign to whom the rabbi must be subordinate, too. The sole source of consensual authority must be the Knesset, not the beit knesset, the synagogue.

So what's the real source of tension between the Palestinians and the state's Jewish citizens? I would say to myself: Let's say peace broke out tomorrow; real, quality peace. Would that automatically resolve the question of Israel's heavily Arab areas - Wadi Ara, the Triangle and the Galilee?

It wouldn't. One reason is that for many years, I and others swore in the name of a democratic Jewish state, but honestly, whenever there were clashes on this subject, we always gave a friendly wink to the "Jewish" and forsook the "democratic" too easily. It was they, the eternally deprived, who paid the price. We institutionalized the concept that democracy is only the rule of the majority, and now they, the hidden minority, are handing us the bill.

I would also try to get to the root of the tension between nationalist and religious Israelis on one side and human rights groups on the other. The right sweeps away the place of the individual in society, while the left is unwilling to compromise on freedoms, even at the expense of the community and state. So I add a third item to my list: a proper balance between the public and the individual, between the state and its citizens.

Looking at my list, I discover there is no real pact here between the state and its citizens. There are no agreed rules of the game, and soon there will be no game at all. In my day there is no kingdom in Israel and everyone does as he pleases. That's the point! Maybe I've reached the bottom, the bedrock.

Israel needs a constitution, because without one it will be impossible to preserve what exists. I can't dictate a constitution alone. Not even Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's legislative cunning will help here. I have no choice. If I want to fulfill the mission that history has bestowed on me, I must take the lead and not be swept up in its wake. History makes leaders, yes, but the individual can also make history. As my father, the late Dr. Yosef Burg, said, "History is the politics of the past, and politics is the history of the future." Now is the time for history and politics.

A few days later, the prime minister will make the following diary entry: I met with the representatives of Israel's rifts: the right, the left, the center, Jews and Arabs, women and men, clerics and defenders of human freedoms, longtime residents and new immigrants, members of the different communities. Friends, I said, each of us feels that something very bad is happening to the country. Each of us has his own reasons for feeling this way, but the conclusion is as clear as it is embarrassing: Something very bad is happening here. We are public emissaries and must not allow this feeling to go without a response. An untreated sore becomes infected, and a neglected infection can, heaven forbid, kill. That's where we are right now.

I summoned you today because I want to reach an agreement with you. I have reached a profound conclusion: the energy of the first State of Israel has run out. It has completed its missions and has not set new goals or the structures that derive from them. We are suffering from material fatigue, as the cracks of the recent past testify.

Friends, we have to admit that the time has come for a quantum leap of renewal. The establishment of the state in 1948 was based on the Declaration of Independence and its principles, on the personality and values of the founders. That was enough for seven great decades, but if we don't do all we can to renew that energy, I fear that everything will be for nothing. I invite you to be my full partners in a broad revolution of values: the establishment of "the second Israeli democracy."

The second Israeli democracy must be grounded in binding, powerful constitutional values. A constitution under which all are equal; one that will set the rules of the game: public decency, protection against the anarchy of isolationists, and protection of the individual from the tyranny of the majority. The constitution will define the regime and its responsibilities and will be committed to the basic freedoms.

The chasm between the current chaos and a decent constitutional state can be bridged in two steps. I want to propose to you the first step. Please send me in the next few days the basic principles you yearn to incorporate into Israel's constitution. Not the legal intricacies, but the main values that will form the constitution. I will fill in the gaps between individual and group, religion and state, regime and citizen, minorities and majority.

With these basic areas we will hold elections within three months. I repeat: The elections will not be about the constitution's content but the principle. The people will be asked to elect a short-term government - two years at the most - whose main mandate will be to draw up Israel's constitution.

When the task is completed, the constitution and its alternatives will be subjected to a binding referendum, the first in the country's history. The next elections, after the constitution is accepted by the majority, will be held according to the new rules of the game, with an uncompromising commitment to the constitution of the second Israeli democracy. Some countries only commit to a constitution after terrible bloodshed in needless civil wars or world wars. I yearn for an Israeli constitution to avert such bloodshed, which threatens us internally and externally.

I undertake that this will be the supreme act of legislation, against which every other act of legislation that contradicts the new constitution or its principles will be rejected. I believe that we have no truer path for transforming the crisis and fragmentation into an opportunity: to repair our world and transform Israel into an exemplary society, in the spirit of the testament and heritage of the state's founders. And for the glory of the State of Israel.

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