Yoram Hazony and critics on the Kineret Declaration

The Kineret Declaration
To the Editors:
After reading the Kineret Declaration, appended to “Miracle on the Sea of Galilee” (Editorial, AZURE 13, Summer 2002), I was dismayed that such an impressive array of Israeli political, cultural, and intellectual figures—including Yoram Hazony of the Shalem Center—should endorse an agreement that, contrary to its purported commitment to and pride in the State of Israel’s democratic nature, seems rather a document of nervous self-justification.
The American Declaration of Independence opens by affirming the truths it holds to be self-evident. But immediately following its ringing phrases on political freedom is an exhaustive indictment of the king of Great Britain for preventing the American people from attaining those rights. The colonists understood that political freedom must be won from those who would deny it to them. They could not have hoped to achieve their own high objectives without demanding recognition and mutual respect from others.
Not so the Kineret Declaration. The title of Article 6, for example, asserts that “The State of Israel Is Committed to the Pursuit of Peace.” What does it mean for a democracy to make such a statement? No democracy has ever sought out war, much less the state of the Jewish people. One must wonder if this assertion is indeed made on behalf of the state’s citizenry, or is instead an answer to the unfounded charges, made by hostile Arab parties, as to Israel’s less-than-noble intentions. Nor will moral preening for the sake of Israel’s fellow democracies serve any good purpose: The very act of making such a statement only reinforces doubts about the state’s obsequiousness and failure of nerve. The declaration’s authors would do far better to maintain that the State of Israel demands unconditional recognition and peaceful coexistence, as is the right of every member of the United Nations. As there is no doubt of Israel’s desire for peace, the real question this or any other such declaration should pose is whether Israel intends to demand anything from those who seek war, and who have turned the war against the Jewish people into the purpose of their existence.
An even more misguided statement is that which is made in Article 5, “The State of Israel Respects the Rights of the Arab Minority.” As the only democratic state in a determinedly anti-democratic region, the issue is surely not the state’s proven respect for the rights of the Arab minority. Rather, it is the state’s justifiable expectation that the Arab minority will respect the rights of the Jewish majority. Yet even a statement that reflects this essential reciprocity would still be injudicious, for it remains an answer to an unsubstantiated charge as opposed to a necessary claim. A better way to phrase it would thus be, “As the only democratic state in the region, Israel respects the rights of its minorities and expects their democratic loyalty in return.”
Clearly, the framers of the Kineret Declaration worked hard to arrive at their consensus. Any comparison with the American declaration would reveal, however, how far they are from the spirit of a proud democracy. I would urge the declaration’s framing committee to address Israel’s situation more honestly than they have done. Democracy requires self-accountability, to be sure, but it must have the confidence to demand its elemental rights from others.
Ruth R. Wisse
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
To the Editors:
The Kineret Declaration is an impressive and moving piece of work, especially considering that it is a document negotiated in committee. How sad that matters had to come to such a dangerous pass for a proclamation of this nature to be possible—but that seems to be the way of human nature, particularly since the events of September 11.
It was interesting to note that of the various minorities in Israel whose rights the declaration seeks to recognize within the framework of a Jewish and democratic state, Arabs are mentioned explicitly, but not Christians. I suppose this is because the number of Christian Israelis is very small and there are no particular political issues concerning their civil and religious rights. Nevertheless, I must say that, as a Christian, I yearn for the day when Jerusalem, including the Old City, is under unified and strong Israeli political control.
On the way toward achieving that goal, I hope the Kineret Declaration proves to be influential.
Christopher DeMuth
American Enterprise Institute
Washington, D.C.
To the Editors:
My reaction to the principles of the Kineret Declaration can only be described as a mixture of surprise and disappointment: Surprise that the declaration is viewed by its signatories as having “achieved something important for the country’s Jewish identity,” and disappointment that AZURE has endorsed it. After all, when the price of unity is endorsing the lowest common denominator, it is not worth paying.
The declaration is in fact contradictory in nature, and seems rooted in the kind of never-never-land thinking that politicians such as Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres employ—and which AZURE has in the past criticized so eloquently. From the declaration’s emphasis on accepting the “decisions of the majority,” one would think that Israel will belong to the Palestinian people the moment they outnumber the country’s Jewish population. No less troubling is the assertion that the Jews can only keep their numerical advantage “by moral means,” whatever that is.
From the declaration, you would never know that Israel is dealing with the huge problem of an Arab fifth column. The signatories expect that the Palestinians will recognize Israel’s right to exist, when it seems clear that they will not. The declaration is pie in the sky, its Zionist credentials dubious, for it gives short shrift to the land of Israel. What purpose does this declaration serve, in the end, except to drive another nail into the coffin of the Israeli Right?
Herbert Zweibon
Americans for a Safe Israel
New York City

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