Miracle on the Sea of Galilee

By David Hazony

This widespread support testifies to an awareness among Israelis of the importance of the document as a symbol of Jewish unity. “The Kineret Declaration is a tremendous achievement,” wrote Ben-Dror Yemini, a journalist for Ma’ariv who was one of the agreement’s original signatories, “because it represents the raising of a common banner among the majority, who are fed up with the anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish, and anti-democratic worldview” that has been over-represented in Israeli public debate.
Predictably, the Kineret Declaration has met with vocal opposition from various quarters. Shulamit Aloni, a founder of Meretz and a longtime advocate of turning Israel into a secular-universalist state, called it a “worthless piece of paper,” dismissing it as a shallow imitation of the nation’s Declaration of Independence. Journalist Avirama Golan, in a column in the daily Ha’aretz, called it “a great laundering of words” which, by excluding representatives of Israel’s Arab community, “obscures the commitment to citizenship in favor of ethnic commitments”—a challenge to the legitimacy of an internal Jewish dialogue. The haredi newspaper Yated Ne’eman, which tends to represent the views of the more isolationist line in that community, called the Kineret Declaration an effort “to bring about conciliation between good and evil,” adding that this sort of dialogue between religious and secular Jews “absolutely goes against everything we have received from the great rabbis who have passed on the tradition in recent generations.”
These objections are hardly surprising. For decades, the public arena in Israel has been dominated by vocal attempts of the extremes to negate the achievements of the country’s cultural and political center. The mainstream of Israeli Jews, who believe that Israel can and ought to be a Jewish state, and never saw any contradiction between this and a democratic form of government, have often been largely left out of this debate. Viewed in this context, two major achievements may be counted in the Kineret Declaration’s favor, whose impact in both Israel and the diaspora may be far-reaching.
First, the Kineret Declaration is a sharp rebuttal to the widespread belief that Israel’s Jews are too divided to agree on fundamental issues. That a cross-section of prominent opinion leaders have now done so is significant—and doubly so because of the role this myth has played in preventing the emergence of an effective constitution for Israel. The process which led to the agreement is much like what would be needed to create a workable constitution, and in many respects can be seen as a kind of dress rehearsal for such a process. Given the sense of unity that becomes more palpable in Israel with each passing day, the idea of adopting a constitution through negotiations among the major groups seems far more realistic once a document such as the Kineret Declaration has been successfully negotiated.
Yet beyond the prospects for creating a constitution for Israel, the declaration also has achieved something important for the country’s Jewish identity. By deliberately forging an internal Jewish document, the forum has reintroduced the idea that the State of Israel is not merely another democratic republic on the shores of the Mediterranean, but is a project of the Jewish people seeking to chart its own course among the nations. “We are one people,” declare the authors, echoing Herzl. “We share one past and one destiny. Despite disagreements and differences of worldview among us, all of us are committed to the continuity of Jewish life, to the continuity of the Jewish people, and to vouchsafing the future of the State of Israel.” The Kineret Declaration represents, above all, a rejection of the idea that a new “Israeli” people has superseded the Jewish identity, a belief that has captured the imagination of a number of prominent Israeli thinkers on the Left and Right since before statehood.
This collective Jewish voice has not been heard in Israel for a generation. It was, of course, the dominant voice when the state was founded half a century ago, and the authors of the Kineret Declaration are correct in invoking the “spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence” in the document’s preamble. But this voice receded over the last few decades, drowned out by the noise of Israeli factionalism. By issuing a call in the name of “we, Jewish citizens of Israel,” the Committee for National Responsibility has indeed placed national interests above lesser political concerns, and has revived the idea of a Jewish people acting in history.
This is no small achievement, and even if it is to serve only as a call for a Jewish nation facing its most trying hour in recent memory, it will have set a valuable precedent. In so doing, the drafters and signatories of the Kineret Declaration have taken a small step toward fulfilling Zionism’s most daring aim, as set out in the Declaration of Independence: To affirm “the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.”
David Hazony, for the Editors
May 15, 2002

Appendix: The Kineret Declaration
Out of a commitment to the State of Israel as a Jewish-democratic state, and out of a sense of responsibility and profound concern for the future of Israel and for the character of Israeli society, we, Jewish citizens of Israel, have assembled and have, in the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, adopted the following agreement:
I. The State of Israel Is the National Home of the Jewish People.
For more than one thousand eight hundred years, the Jewish people was without a home. In countless lands and historical circumstances, we experienced persecution. In the twentieth century, under conditions of exile, the Jewish people sustained a historic catastrophe such as no other people has known, the Holocaust.
We believe that it is out of supreme and existential necessity, and with complete moral justification, that the Jewish people should have a national home of its own, the State of Israel.
Throughout its history, the Jewish people maintained a profound and unbroken connection to its land. The longing for the land of Israel and for Jerusalem stood at the center of its spiritual, cultural, and national life. The Jewish people’s adherence to its heritage, its Tora, its language, and its land is a human and historic occurrence with few parallels in the history of nations. It was this loyalty that gave rise to the Zionist movement, brought about the ingathering of our people once more into its land, and led to the founding of the State of Israel and the establishment of Jerusalem as its capital.
We affirm that the right of the Jewish people to lead a life of sovereignty in the land of Israel is an enduring and unquestionable right. The State of Israel fulfills in the land of Israel the Jewish people’s right to life, sovereignty, and freedom.
The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, the sanctuary of its spirit, and the foundation stone of its freedom.
II. The State of Israel Is a Democracy.
In accordance with its Declaration of Independence, the State of Israel is founded on the principles of freedom, justice, and peace. The State of Israel is committed to full equality of rights for all its citizens, without distinction of religion, origin, or gender. The State of Israel is committed to freedom of religion and conscience, language, education, and culture.
In accordance with its Basic Laws and fundamental values, the State of Israel believes in the dignity of man and his freedom, and is committed to the defense of human rights and civil rights. All men are created in God’s image.

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