Declaring Israel united it

Take a close look at the photograph above. You recognize it, right? That’s Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the site where, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s declaration of independence, bringing into existence the Jewish state of Israel.

But take a closer look. That’s not Ben-Gurion on the dais. Behind the black spectacles, sitting about where he sat, is Menachem Begin, who on May 14, 1948 was the underground commander of the Irgun. And two seats to his right is Yitzhak Shamir, who on that day was commander of the Lehi underground. They weren’t in the room on May 14, and they never signed the declaration. Is this photoshopped? Alternative history?

Not at all. This is a photograph of the declaration ceremony as reenacted on Israel’s 30th anniversary in 1978. By then, Ben-Gurion was dead, Begin was prime minister, and Shamir was speaker of the Knesset. Begin and Shamir came to celebrate a declaration made (and partly written) by their 1948 nemesis, Ben-Gurion. 

Why? Because, as I argue in my “last word” on Israel’s declaration, at this link, the text remains unsurpassed in its capacity to unite. Its words capture the spirit not of a person or a party but of a people.

(I also respond to two distinguished legal authorities, Eugene Kontorovich and Yonatan Green, who last week assessed my earlier installment on the legal status of the declaration as a de facto constitution.)

That brings to a conclusion a series that began back in April. If you want to reread the entire series, all the links are here. (And if you liked the writing, please give credit to the legendary Neal Kozodoy, who weighed every word and whose judgment never fails me.)

Photo credit: Dan Hadani Collection, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, National Library of Israel.