Israeli Declaration of Independence
A D’var Torah on the Israeli Protests for Social Justice
This Summer, I had the honor of serving as the chairperson of the Vision Committee, one of the volunteer committees of experts initiated by professors Yossi Yona and Avia Spivak. The goal of these committees is to put on paper the demands of the social protest in all areas. Our short essay is, in fact, the introduction to the intermediate report issued by the specialists’ committees in the media and in public hearings all over the country. Parashat Nitzvim Vayelch starts:
“Ye are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in the midst of thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water;” (Deuteronomy 29:9-10).
Half a million out of seven million Israeli citizens were in the streets, “standing this day”, from all the classes: elites and common people together, yearning to renew the solidarity of all – no exceptions. These half a million Israelis were surprisingly ready to compromise with each other in order to arrive at a common denominator, rejecting the repulsive word “sector” and replacing it with the warmer word “community”. In our essay, we described the urgent need to renew the “treaty” between the government and the people- all the parts of the people. The concept of “treaty” is taken from the return to Zion during the time of the leadership of Ezra and Nehemia, following the collapse of the treaty that was made with the house of David during first Temple period (and its last survivor – Zerubbabel, who was not able to hold onto leadership). We thought about the modern State of Israel and its democratic foundations, including the “social treaty” of Rousseau. Our parasha reminds even an older concept:
“that He may establish thee this day unto Himself for a people, and that He may be unto thee a God, as He spoke unto thee, and as He swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; but with him that standeth here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day” (ibid 12-14).
The treaty we need today is based on the magnificent Zionist-Israeli past of the welfare state that our ancestors established here in generations past, and it aims towards steady and lasting change for the coming generations. If we will belittle the oath that binds us for generations, the Torah warns us:
“And the generation to come, your children that shall rise up after you, and the foreigner that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses wherewith the LORD hath made it sick…even all the nations shall say ‘Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? What meaneth the heat of this great anger?’ then men shall say: ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them forth out of the land of Egypt;” (ibid 21-24).
This is how we, the vision team, wrote in our introduction to the intermediate report:
“The State of Israel…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex;” Thus the founders of the State declared on Iyar 5th 5708, May 15th 1948. Today, over 60 years after the State of Israel was founded, the economy of Israel is a very successful. At a time when many countries are struggling through economic crises, the Israeli economy stands out as a strong and growing, as does Israel’s GDP, which puts it among the developed countries of the world. The unemployment rate in Israel is being constantly reduced.
Even so, the Israeli society is characterized by many social illnesses. It is characterized by very wide gapes between poor and rich, among the widest in the western world; the number of people who live below the poverty line is the greatest in the western world; accessibility to services such as health care, housing and education is clearly not equal and the Israeli middle class is eroding. For many, the idea of buying an apartment is wishful thinking, and “equal opportunities” has became an empty slogan. The members of the public, including middle class people and residents of the geographical and social periphery of Israel, who feel that the State is not attentive to their troubles is increasing. They feel that the State does not do its duty to ensure their future in this country. The founding of the State of Israel was accompanied by hope for the founding of a model society, but the society that was founded, is far from being a model society…
The renewed hope of the Israeli society was expressed in the summer of 2011 by an unprecedented demonstration of civil solidarity, when tents encampments were built in different cities and hundred of thousands people filled the streets. The people demand social justice; the people demand the renewal of the treaty that connects, on one hand, the different components of the Israeli society, and, on the other hand, connects the society to the government. The demonstration of the encampments all over the country comes to remind that the people are the rulers and the government is simply their representatives; the civil demonstration demands that the government listen to the ruler’s demands; the civil demonstration demands that the government act for the common good and ensure a dignified life for all its citizens. The middle class people who volunteered to undertake this mission know how to voice the voice of all the people: first of all there is a need for a thorough improvement of the situation of the most weakened, of the homeless and those without livelihood and health care. The lowest in on the socioeconomic ladder and their squashed dignity determine the shape of all the society. The social protest, with its movements and organizations, demands a change of social economic priorities of the Israeli government.
It should be emphasized that the social protest does not demand only the change of social economic policy of the State of Israel, but asks to establish new democratic arrangements that will ensure that all of the Israeli public will be meaningful actors in shaping the policy that influences their lives. It is clear today that the existing democratic structures do not allow the citizens at access policy-design procedures and decision making and that powerful actors such as corporations, economic groups and lobby groups exert on policy design in a way that does not serve an advancement of Israeli citizens’ welfare and sometimes even harms this welfare. There is a need for a renewed thinking in terms of the establishment of a basis for discussion procedures that includes all of the Israeli public – starting with from the level of the neighborhoods, then to the local level and ending at the State level… The free, critical and independent media have also an important role to play in strengthening civil participation.
Before the specialists’ team stands the idea of creating a pattern that enables a dynamic flow of political power between the government and the citizens, and feedback between the citizens and the State and so forth. The government is in charge of ensuring the citizens’ freedom and providing them with the basic security net necessary for a dignified existence; we believe that in this corrected situation the citizens will become empowered instead of weakened, their trust in the elected institutions and the political procedure will be renewed and the yearning for solidarity, mutuality, a solution for the troubles of the weak and for shared responsibility over our future here.
In these days of Elul, as the poet Avraham Chalfi wrote, the “Jewish fall” knocks on our door, the Shofar Selichot, the Days of Awe, atonement and purity. We will celebrate the renewal with joy only if we will learn how to work hard without tiredness on the essential point: we must maintain the demand for self examination raised this past summer for a full repentance that the people ask from themselves and from their leaders:
“and shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee… And the LORD thy God will make thee over-abundant in all the work of thy hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good; for the LORD will again rejoice over thee for good, as He rejoiced over thy fathers… For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’ But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed;” (ibid 2-19)
They try to tell us that in Heaven’s hands, that there is not money, that its impossible, that there is a danger to our security, that it is the same in America, that there is globalization, that the market rules, that it is the rules of nature… but we say: we will not give in to this nonsense, it is not in Heaven’s hands, and the way is detailed in the papers of correct policy written by the specialists’ teams which we joined.
May this year and its troubles soon be over and let us begin a year full of blessings.