Contributing to the Jewish state’s current controversy over efforts to reform its judicial system, observes Peter Berkowitz, is its lack of a written constitution. Berkowitz encourages Israelis to seek a way out of the present crisis by looking to the founding document they do have: the Declaration of Independence.
The document does not explicitly mention “democracy.” But it commits Israel to democratic institutions not only by insisting on the equality of rights for all citizens and the establishment of representative government but also by stressing that Arab inhabitants would enjoy “full and equal citizenship.”
The Israeli Declaration of Independence no more provides a constitution for Israel than does the U.S. Declaration of Independence furnish a constitution for America. Both documents, however, announced a universal standard. In 1859, as civil war loomed, Abraham Lincoln wrote in a letter, “All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”
Something similar could be said about Ben Gurion’s . . . affirmation that Israel would be based on, ensure, and guarantee basic rights and fundamental freedoms because they are inseparable from our humanity.
Perhaps reconsideration of the precious inheritance enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence could assist both sides in assuaging the rage roiling the country. Bold and conciliatory, the nation’s founding document promises not merely a Jewish state, or a free state, or a democratic state, but that Israel will combine and reconcile its diverse elements to form a Jewish and free and democratic state.
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