It’s a difficult time for pollsters.
Whether it be in the USA, Israel or Australia it seems that the common denominator is that they are not an accurate indicator of too much at all.
Moreover, exit polling which was usually regarded as being more exact, also proved to not be so in neither the Israeli nor Australian elections.
Mazal tov to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who pulled off the completely unexpected and will lead either a minority or majority government!
Noteworthy when it comes to Australian foreign policy vis a vis Israel, is that it means that we can expect continuity of Australia’s increased pro-Israel voting pattern at the United Nations and we will not see as Labor threatened, a reversal of Australia’s recognition of Jerusalem, albeit West Jerusalem, as Israel’s capital. It also means the Labor’s policy of unilateral recognition of Palestine, recommended to but non-binding on its parliamentary body, will not come into being in the near future.
One of the ongoing quirks of Jews and Australian politics is that Melbourne Jewry largely live in a safe Labor seat whilst Sydney Jews are concentrated in a safe Liberal seat. Yes this Sydney Liberal blue ribbon continuity was punctured recently by the election of an independent in the by-election of 2018, but with Labor still relegated to a distant third.
As Gen 17 showed, the Jewish community in both cities regard themselves overwhelmingly as ‘Zionist’ and what almost defies explanation is that young Jews between the ages of 18 to 29 defined themselves as ‘Zionist’ in greater percentages than all older age groups.
This goes against trends in most if not all diaspora communities, not the least important of which is the USA.
Gen 17 however, did not define the term ‘Zionist’.
The real question is how the next generation sees the whole moral rationale and implementation of the Zionist experiment.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel and in the absence of a constitution, the Israeli Declaration of Independence (DOI) of the 14th of May 1948 has become THE single document that underpins Zionism.
In essence the practical part of the declaration comes in 3 parts.
It “declares the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael to be known as the State of Israel.”
This very clearly and unambiguously says that the State of Israel is to be a Jewish State.
Then it goes on to say that “the State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles”.
Also an unambiguous statement.
And then and only then the DOI says how the Jewish State will operate.
“it 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; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
These three elements of the DOI when combined together largely present no dilemma for traditional Zionists.
The concept of a Jewish State with equal rights for all her citizens is moral, logical and without internal contradiction.
There is much discussion about what exactly a ‘Jewish State’ means, but not whether Israel is the Jewish State – certainly not amongst the vast majority of Israelis and self-identifying Zionists living in the diaspora.
Of late however a small element amongst Australian Jewry and in essence, larger percentages of American Jewry, are describing these passages from the DOI as contradictory.
When nationalism is derided and universalistic views are superimposed on the State of Israel, Jewish self-determination seems to these people to be something less than ideal, especially if it is misunderstood by them to come at the expense of others.
This conceptual tension was increased by the passage of the Jewish Nation State Bill by the Netanyahu government in 2018.
Within Israel the debate about this Bill was essentially about the following – whether it was not redundant, why it failed to include a statement about equal rights for all and particularly why it omitted recognition of those fiercely committed to the Jewish State, such as the Druze community?
The equal rights debate centred on whether already having been included in the 1948 DOI and within an earlier Bill passed in 1992, it was or was not necessary to include it again.
To remind ourselves this 1992 bill was called ‘Basic Law – Human Dignity and Liberty’.
In clause 1A it states “The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”.
Whilst there was valid debate about whether the equality statement needed to be included in 2018 or not, what was again not a point of contention in Israel, was that if a Nation State Bill was to be presented, it say clearly that Israel is and can only be the Nation State of one people – the Jewish people.
In essence that means that only the Jewish people will express their national – not individual – but national aspirations, within the State of Israel.
It is so non-controversial in Israel that people across the spectrum including of course self-described secular leftists, not only believe this concept to be moral and legitimate, but clearly state and understand it to be a basic underpinning of Zionism.
In 2018 Tzippi Livni, no right winger, said “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. At the same time, equality is a Jewish and democratic value and being a Jewish state with equal rights to all the citizens means that the Israeli Arabs have equal rights as citizens, although their national aspirations will not be fulfilled in Israel”
Where the drift occurs, when it does, between Israeli leftists and diaspora leftists it is precisely over this national concept.
Although elections took place in Israel on the 9th of April and despite them being essentially about one issue – whether the people wanted Netanyahu to continue to be Prime Minister? – and notwithstanding that fully 65 versus 45 members of the Knesset recommended Netanyahu for PM emphasising his stunning victory and dominance (something that even Scott Morrison would have been happy to achieve locally), Netanyahu is yet to be able to form a coalition government.
Even with the extension granted by President Ruby Rivlin, Netanyahu has less than two weeks left to do so.
As discussed last month, the tough man in the negotiations is the ever determined Avigdor Lieberman. Without his party’s support Netanyahu has only 60 from the 120 Knesset members. And even if he successfully forms government, he will be at the mercy of future threats from any one of his coalition partners, to walk out at any time.
Whether Netanyahu does or does not attempt to have any laws passed to give him immunity from prosecution is speculation. As Likud member Gidon Sa’ar points out, the Knesset can already vote by a majority to give any member of its body immunity.
What is not in doubt is that just as Australia’s system of democracy has its own peculiarities, Israel’s has too.
With only a one house Knesset, there is a different and more complicated relationship with the High Court which acts as a judicial body, but also in some ways as a house of review for parliamentary legislation.
No, Israel’s democracy is not in danger nor are the moral underpinnings of the State – one just needs context and the right lens.
Our task whilst discussing these issues, is to have those outside of Israel understand as Israelis do, just what makes Israel unique and why the moral clarity of the DOI continues to shine through.
The real challenge for us in the diaspora is how to keep self-defining ‘Zionists’ on board with the entirety of the DOI as envisaged by the founding fathers – as we watch the unfolding events in Israel?
Dr Ron Weiser AM
Dr. Ron Weiser is the Zionist Federation of Australia Public Affairs Chairman and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW