The right of the Jewish people

“All men are created equal… they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” These two principles, from the American Declaration of Independence, form the very bedrock of the United States. Did Israel, in declaring its independence in May 1948, assert the same principles?

In my latest (sixth) installment on Israel’s declaration of independence, I examine its treatment of rights. The bedrock of Israel isn’t individual rights; it’s the collective right of the Jewish people to independence in its own homeland. The fact that Israel has a secure Jewish majority makes it possible for the Jewish state to function as a democracy that recognizes the equal political rights of its citizens, and the collective rights of its minorities. But that majority wasn’t self-evident in May 1948, and the language of the declaration reflects it.

The word “democracy,” present in the drafts of the declaration, was ultimately struck. But the declaration does guarantee the “full and equal citizenship” of all. So just where does the declaration come down on the question of collective versus individual rights? And what’s the one right that is totally unique to Israel?

Read the full essay at Mosaic. 

Did the UN create Israel?

Israel’s declaration of independence doesn’t invoke God’s promise of the land to the patriarchs, as I explained in the last installment of my series on Israel’s declaration of independence. But it repeatedly invokes the United Nations “partition resolution” of November 1947. So did the UN create Israel?

As I explain in my new installment, Israel’s founders, and above all David Ben-Gurion, were very selective in what they took from the UN. Indeed, if you only read Israel’s declaration of independence, you’d think that the UN had licensed the creation of only one state, a Jewish one. You wouldn’t know the UN had voted for partition, or that its plan had come with a map.

If it had been within the power of the UN to create a Jewish state, it would have created an Arab one too. But states aren’t created by decree. Absent a Jewish army, Israel wouldn’t have arisen in any borders, and certainly not in the expanded borders of 1949. To learn how the drafters of the declaration cleverly construed the UN’s decision, read my new installment, at this link.

Will the real founders please stand up?

Here are three photographs, of three Israelis casting ballots in Israel’s first elections in January 1949. 

To the left is Chaim Weizmann, the elder statesman of Zionism, who helped defeat the Uganda Plan in 1903, who secured the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and who won Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948. As he casts his ballot, he is 74 years old, and he is the first president of Israel.

In the middle is David Ben-Gurion, a pioneer who settled in Palestine in 1906, who for forty years steeled the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine against Arab violence and British royal commissions, and who declared Israel’s independence and founded the Israel Defense Forces in 1948. As he casts his ballot, he is 62 years of age, and he is the first prime minister of Israel.

To the right is Menachem Begin, who had commanded the Irgun (or Etzel) underground following his arrival in Palestine in 1942. His most notable achievements (at this point): in 1946 and 1947, he planned attacks on British troops including the bombing of the King David Hotel and the retaliatory hanging of two British sergeants. As he casts his ballot, he is 35 years old, and in this first election, the party he leads will finish in fourth place.

Who among these three men deserves to be called a “founder of Israel”? One could be generous and include all three, satisfying everyone. But would that be historically accurate? If not, where should the line be drawn? I answered that question to my own satisfaction in a debate over at Mosaic. Last week I posted the text of my argument. Now, if you prefer, you can watch me make it below.