Jewish Rights to Israel (part 1):
Declaration of Independence
Once Jewish rights to Israel were obvious. Even those who had no connection or sympathy to Zionism knew where Jews came from, about Jewish connection to the Holy Land. To top it off, Jew haters often demanded Jews “go home to Palestine.” Then everyone knew that Palestine was just another name for Zion.
Now, somehow, Jewish rights to Israel are not so obvious. Interestingly, both anti-Semites and modern liberal Jews find themselves asking the same questions (albeit for different reasons): Is it legitimate to found and maintain a State specifically for the Jewish People?
The antisemite denies the legitimacy of the Jewish State out of hatred for the existence of the Jewish People. Jewish sovereignty is abhorrent because Jewish existence is abhorrent.
The liberal Jew on the other hand is taking into consideration the questions of pluralism, equality and an innate aversion to anything that could remotely be considered racism. In a time when political movements are calling for the abolition of borders and nationalism is equated with extremism it can seem difficult to defend the idea of a State for a single people.
Added to this is the additional complexity of the Arab population both within and without Israel, many of whom object to the existence of the Jewish State in its entirety while others say that their objections are to specific laws and policies of the Jewish State.
Many of us find ourselves at a loss to explain Jewish rights to the Jewish land to the modern progressive, post religion, low information (but loudly opinionated) person. My friend Ryan Bellerose has gone to great lengths to teach us effective terminology, explaining the and how this differs from people of longstanding presence in a land. Reference to the Bible, while a very powerful motivator to the religious person, are counterproductive in dialogue with the non or anti-religious. Indigenous status is a whole different ballgame.
Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), Israel’s Declaration of Independence spells out Jewish rights to the land of Israel in exactly the format Ryan suggests. There is no “Because God said so” while indigeneity is placed above all other explanations. It also addresses the difference between the indigenous people and the inhabitants who are not indigenous, while declaring that in the Jewish State all individuals will have the same, equal rights. This is the precursor to the recently passed Nation State Law which I will address in a separate article (Jewish Rights to Israel: Part 2).
As part of my work at the I did something few of us bother to do – I read the most basic document regarding the foundation of the Jewish State – the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. It fascinated me to discover that, although the document was written before the questions of this time arose, it addresses them clearly and concisely, spelling out the reasons for the legitimacy of the Jewish Nation State.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”
In Hebrew there is no word for indigenous however, the description that opens the Declaration of Independence is the definition of indigeneity: the land in which a nation was born, the place where that nation first formed their culture, built spiritual, cultural and political institutions.
Israel is the land in which the Jewish people were sovereign and the place from which, as a Nation, the Jewish People influenced the world (through the ideas laid out in the Bible).
Indigeneity is the strongest claim any People can have to any specific land: this specific piece of land and no other is the ancestral homeland of my People.While lacking the word for indigenous in Hebrew it was clear that the writers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence had clear understanding of the meaning and the power of this concept.
“After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.”
This second paragraph reinforces the first with the explanation that the Jewish People were forcibly removed from their ancestral homeland and did not leave or abandon the land from their own free will. Despite centuries of exile, the Jewish People never gave up the hope to return and regain sovereignty in their ancestral homeland. This is an extraordinary and unparalleled testament to the deep connection of a People to the land.
“Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, defiant returnees, and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.”
This paragraph takes Jewish hope to the realm of practicality: Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, impelled by Jewish history in the land and the connection that was continued in exile through hope and prayer, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. Jews not only retained esoteric hope but took action, in every generation, to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades (prior to the Declaration of Independence) Jews returned in their masses. Following this is a description mirroring the first paragraph of the document and elaborating the revival of the Jewish People in their indigenous land – reviving the language in which their original culture was articulated, building thriving communities, taking custodianship of the land (making the desert bloom), controlling their own economy and culture.
Here, for the first time, the document refers to “all the country’s inhabitants” – in other words, the Jews and non-Jews (Arabs). This was written after the Arab massacres of their Jewish neighbors: