“Being a free people in our land” brings with it responsibility for its democratic functions and Jewish character in equal measure.
The Declaration of Independence describes the journey towards May 1948 and the vision for the nascent Jewish state known as Israel.
Its power rests in the aspirations the Jewish people have for self-determination in the face of thousands of years of exile, continuing settlement in the land and devastating events of the 20th century. A vision of democracy and Judaism hand-in-hand.
The narrative behind the new Nation-State bill is different. It downgrades the role of the Arabic language and appears to give a green light to single ethnic and religious groups to create communal settlements to the exclusion of others. And that is besides other complex issues of how minority groups are regarded.
On the one hand, there is a vision of Israeli Jewish culture being more important than anything else, be it Jewish culture in the diaspora or culture of other minority groups in Israel. At the same time, the vision is one of a perceived existential internal threat destabilising the Jewish character, leading to cultural insecurity.
Good laws should be set within a vision of how the world might be and how it should be. My vision for the state is not one wrought up in confusion of its own significance, with an inferiority complex and where rampant religious and ethno-centrism permits the establishment of mono-ethnic/religious communal settlements and even the suggestion of lesser status of minority groups.
Rather, the democratic vision of the Declaration of Independence must be more compelling. As Reform Zionist educator Dr Michael Livni wrote: “The realisation of the idea of the Jewish state… is the task of committed social process, of community and perhaps of… communities based on free will and conscious of their Zionist Shlichut (mission).”
υ Neil Janes is rabbi at West London Synagogue