Why honouring the ‘Founders’ still matters…writes Ric Benjamin

January 21, 2018 by Ric Benjamin
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Our citizenship saga around the intent of Section 44 in the Australian Constitution and the on-going saga about gun control in the US around the wording of the 2nd Amendment to their Constitution have opened up a debate about how we should deal with our founding legal documents.

Ric Benjamin

Do we really know the ‘intent’ of the words, phrases and sentences in our Constitution? Should we take the words literally? What if their literal meaning is ambiguous?

With competing interests focused on the actual words of such documents, it seems timely to take another look at Israel’s Declaration of Independence (because Israel has no constitution) for comparison.

When looking at the words in the American or Australian constitutions, compared to those used in the Israel’s Declaration of Independence, I can’t help but marvel at the specific, unambiguous words chosen by the authors to describe their ideals for this newly formed country. While it might have seemed inevitable that significant weight would be given to protect and encourage Jewish immigration, in fact the Declaration that outlines the principles of the State focuses on democratic and universal human rights for all citizens. By presenting these principles as bullet points and adding bolded italics for emphasis, their intent is clear. The authors wrote :

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will:

  • be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion;
  • will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants;
  • will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets;
  • will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex;
  • will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture;
  • will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and
  • will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

These words demonstrate that the founders of Israel expressed some of the loftiest aspirations of any country.   They explicitly recognise that Israel will be created through the multi-cultural intake of Jews from all corners of the globe and as a country with an existing multi-ethnic, multi-religious collections of citizens.

The notions of governing to ensure full equality, full freedom and to deliver outcomes that benefit all inhabitants are the foundation of today’s Western democracies. So while I marvel at these words, I also wonder how these principles seem to have been lost over time and whether many Israeli citizens know that these words are theirs.

As a Jew passionate about Israel and its long term survival as the democratic homeland for the Jews, I also wonder about how I can help?

Perhaps rather than use the language and approach of political partisanship traditionally adopted by Jewish/Zionist organisations across the spectrum, we should recognise the true role of the Diaspora. As Jews living in the Diaspora we have no role to play in Israel’s policy creation and decision making. However we can help resolve conflicts through ‘quiet diplomacy’ and ‘honest brokerage’; we can support those citizens of Israel who are seeking to uphold the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

This realisation led me to the New Israel Fund (NIF) over six years ago. When people ask me, “Why the NIF?” (which is usually a coded question for: “Aren’t they anti-Israel?”), I respond that it’s because it is the only organisation I know that has supported the birth of over 800 Israeli created, operated and registered organisations which promote fair and just resolutions to conflicts – whether they are social, political or religious.

So when I feel disheartened with the trajectory of Israel’s politics and policies – and the effect it may have on its very survival – I place my trust in Israelis of all religious, ethnic and social backgrounds who are there at the coalface, with the support of the New Israel Fund, working to build and sustain their ‘better’ version of the State. I may disagree with their tactics from time to time, but never their commitment to the principles enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. When Israel realises these principles, it will truly be ‘a light unto the nations’.

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The New Israel Fund is screening the movie “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue” followed by Q & A.

In Sydney on Sunday February 4 at 7pm at the Randwick Ritz. Buy tickets here.

In Melbourne on Thursday February 8 at 7:30pm at Classic Cinemas. Buy tickets here.

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