Israel’s Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence: The His­to­ry and Polit­i­cal The­o­ry of the Nation’s Found­ing Moment

  • Review
By – April 24, 2023

With Israel cel­e­brat­ing its sev­en­ty-fifth year and con­tin­u­ing to strug­gle with its iden­ti­ty as a Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­t­ic nation, the pub­li­ca­tion of Israel’s Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence could not be more time­ly. The authors trace the his­to­ry of Israel’s Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, draw­ing on ear­ly drafts to explore the ide­o­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal moti­va­tions of the nation’s founders and the deci­sions they made to reach a final document.

In their intro­duc­tion, Neil Roga­shevsky and Dov Zigler write that the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence rep­re­sents a rup­ture with the past and the open­ing of a new vol­ume in Jew­ish his­to­ry.” It assert­ed not only the fact of Israel’s inde­pen­dence, but also elab­o­rat­ed on the rea­sons why there ought to be an inde­pen­dent Jew­ish State in the land of Israel” — a con­clu­sion that the Declaration’s authors reached while part of polit­i­cal bod­ies that led the State before inde­pen­dence. In just three weeks, their debates had amount­ed to five dis­tinct drafts.

Rogashevsky’s and Zigler’s book is divid­ed into four sec­tions. The first exam­ines the argu­ments of Zion­ist lead­ers. Span­ning the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, they came togeth­er to estab­lish a de fac­to gov­ern­ment for the still-unde­clared nation. The sec­ond sec­tion looks at three drafts that con­sid­ered whether inde­pen­dence should be based on nat­ur­al rights, Labor Zion­ist ide­ol­o­gy, or the quest for inter­na­tion­al law that arose in reac­tion to the Holo­caust. Sec­tion three dis­cuss­es the draft penned by Moshe Sharett, which was reject­ed, and David Ben-Gurion’s deci­sion to devel­op the final draft, which was approved only hours before its sign­ing; it was not even avail­able on a for­mal scroll when read aloud on May 14, 1948. The book’s final sec­tion eval­u­ates the lega­cy of this final draft. It regards the doc­u­ment as a source of nor­ma­tive prin­ci­ples, moral argu­ment, and piv­otal to legal inter­pre­ta­tion” in the State of Israel today.

Israel’s Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence allows read­ers to explore three weeks that have had an immea­sur­able impact on the his­to­ry of Israel, the Jew­ish peo­ple, and the world at large. The authors deliv­er a nar­ra­tive that is both nuanced and easy to fol­low. Read­ers will find them­selves flip­ping between chap­ters to com­pare each draft — trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish for the first time — and will appre­ci­ate the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties that have shaped Israel into the coun­try it is today.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

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