Thursday, January 31, 2008

Israel @ 60: A Jewish & Democratic State?

In preparation for the upcoming 60th anniversary of the State of Israel, I was asked to participate in a written debate surrounding the character of the State of Israel.

I was given 300 words to comment on the section of Israel's Declaration of Independence
appearing below. (I will have another 200 words to respond to what one of the other participants in this exercise writes, which I will also post here).
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it 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.

Having suffered in Exile like no other nation, the Jewish people are sensitive to the suffering of others and expect the Jewish State of Israel to serve as a model in how a nation-state can treat its minorities fairly.

It is for this reason that the founding fathers of the State of Israel took pains, in the very paragraph within Israel’s Declaration of Independence stating that the State of Israel will be open to every Jew in the world, to balance that with the assurance that despite being a Jewish state, “complete equality” will be assured to all.

However, does this accurately reflect the vision of the prophets of Israel?

In this paragraph, two distinct values are expressed. First, that Israel should be a Jewish State, and second, that there should be “complete equality” for everyone living in the State of Israel.

Did the Jewish people, for millennia, yearn for a return to Zion merely to create “the only democracy in the Middle East”? Did they dream of granting “complete equality” to strangers, enabling them to turn the Jewish State into a state of its citizens, or decide on issues such as “Who is a Jew?” or “Land for Peace?”


Throughout the long Exile, the Jewish people were sustained by the “vision of the prophets” – of the eventual ingathering of the Exiles. Upon returning to their ancient Homeland the Jewish people would live as proud, strong and sovereign Jews," creating an “exemplary society” and serving as a "light unto the nations," thus sanctifying G-d’s name throughout the world.

Any non-Jew willing to accept Israel as a Jewish State without seeking to undermine that premise would be guaranteed full individual rights. Issues concerning the national character and policy of the Jewish State would be left exclusively to the Jewish people residing in Israel.

Treat the stranger kindly? Certainly, but the Bible didn’t intend this to be taken to the extreme of giving the stranger the keys to our national home.

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