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The Events That Shaped Israeli Democracy

1948

The Declaration of Independence

On Friday afternoon, May 14, 1948 (the 5th of Iyyar 5708), the members of the People’s Council and distinguished guests met for a special session at the home of Meir Dizengoff in Tel Aviv and declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Thirty seven members of the Council signed the Declaration of Independence, Israel’s founding document. The Declaration recounts the justification for the establishment of the state in Eretz Israel, the national homeland in which the Jewish people realize their right to self-determination. The document expresses the commitment of its signatories to the principles of liberty and equality, and gives explicit guarantees of equality for all its citizens. Today, at a time when many speak of deepening social divides, the Declaration serves as the glue that holds Israeli society together, and is the ultimate expression of the values shared by all Israelis. ... Read More ... Read More

1948

The Altalena Affair and the Disbanding of the Pre-State Militias

One of the main challenges confronting the newborn state was how to fuse the various underground militias that had operated during the Mandate into a single national army—the Israel Defense Forces. The low point came at the height of the War of Independence, in June 1948, when the Altalena, a ship bearing arms for the right wing Irgun Zva’i Leumi, or Etzel, arrived off the shores of Tel Aviv. In the violent clash that ensued, three IDF soldiers and 16 Etzel fighters were killed. Later that year, David Ben-Gurion ordered that the left wing militia – the Palmach – also be disbanded and merged into the IDF. The elimination of the militias and their incorporation into the people’s army triggered harsh criticism of Ben-Gurion, who was accused of employing excessive force on behalf of partisan political motives. Others, however, thought his actions were appropriate and essential for consolidating the authority of the new state. Menachem Begin, the head of the Etzel, put it best: “Civil war—never!” ... Read More ... Read More

1951

The Mass Immigration from Asia and North Africa of the 1950s

Israel’s self-definition as the national home of the Jewish people, open for the ingathering of the exiles, received immediate and concrete expression: in the years following the establishment of Israel as an independent state, the country absorbed huge waves of immigrants. Within three years its population had doubled. The young state, with its scant resources, found it difficult to cope with this colossal human wave. Treatment of the newcomers, especially the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Muslim countries, was distant and arrogant. The wounds inflicted then have not fully healed to this day, and the challenge of absorbing immigrants from more than a hundred different countries is an ongoing one. ... Read More ... Read More

1952

The Reparations Agreement with Germany: Stones are Hurled at the Knesset Building

In the early 1950s, the Israeli Government decided to conduct secret negotiations with the government of West Germany about the payment of reparations—individual and collective—for the unspeakable suffering experienced by Jews during the Holocaust. A fierce public storm ensued after the negotiations were revealed. In January 1952, at a mass demonstration against the Government, Menachem Begin, the head of the opposition Herut party, delivered an inflammatory speech, denouncing the reparations as blood money and calling for civil disobedience. When the rally was over, the crowd set out for the Knesset building. Even though it was guarded by a phalanx of police, stones were hurled at the building. Dozens of police officers were hurt, some of the building’s windows were shattered, and several Knesset members were injured as well. ... Read More ... Read More

1966

End of the Military Administration

Shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, the War of Independence broke out. The Israeli government – fearing that insurgent forces in Arab communities would organize collectively against the young state – announced the imposition of a military government on Arabs living in Israel. This entailed a fundamental violation of the rights of Arab citizens to freedom of movement (since movement outside of Arab localities required a permit), work in public organizations, land use, and more. In 1966, after severe and prolonged criticism from large parts of the Israeli public, including the Herut Movement headed by Menachem Begin, the military government was abolished. ... Read More ... Read More

1967

The Six Day War and the Settlement Project

On May 14, 1967, Egyptian armed forces moved into the Sinai Peninsula, which had been demilitarized since the 1956 Suez War, threatening an imminent attack on Israel. After a number of tense weeks during which international diplomatic efforts to avert hostilities went nowhere, on June 5th the IDF launched a pre-emptive strike on Egyptian airfields. Over the course of the next six days, Israel gained control of territory that tripled its size. The war’s outcome fundamentally altered the lineaments of Israeli politics and opened an ideological chasm, which persists to this day, between advocates of the Whole Land of Israel (“hawks”) and those in favor of partition of the land under the slogan “two states for two peoples” (“doves”). The former view Israeli control of the Territories and the establishment of settlements as expressions of the Jewish people’s historic right to the land, as well as a security imperative. Those who believe in evacuating the settlements believe that territorial compromise is essential for achieving peace and for preserving the Jewish character of the State and its democratic nature. ... Read More ... Read More

1973

The Agranat Commission Report

In 1973, shortly after the end of the Yom Kippur War, a National Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Supreme Court President Shimon Agranat, convened to examine the military and political decisions that led to what was referred to as the meḥdal—the “fiasco.” The Commission concluded that the senior military commanders bore personal responsibility for lapses in judgment that led to near disaster, and should be sacked. But the commission absolved the political leaders—in particular Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan—of direct personal responsibility, while hinting that they might be held accountable under the rubric of “ministerial responsibility”. The public storm that followed the report’s publication led to Meir’s resignation and Dayan’s exclusion from the new Government headed by Yitzhak Rabin. In addition to its personal recommendations, the Agranat Commission recommended a clearer division of authority among the Government, the Defense Minister, and the Chief of Staff. This and other recommendations for reform altered relations between the civil and military echelons in Israel, arguably for the better. ... Read More ... Read More

1977

The Electoral Reversal of 1977

After almost three decades of a Mapai government (and its successor, the Labor Party/Alignment), the Likud party, then led by Menachem Begin, staged a historic upset in the 1977 elections. The peaceful transition of power between parties that were vehemently opposed to one another was a major test of Israeli democracy, and by all standards it passed with flying colors, setting an important precedent for the future. ... Read More ... Read More

1977

President Sadat of Egypt Comes to Israel

In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a historic three-day visit to Israel, during which he spoke from the Knesset rostrum: “We accept to live with you in permanent peace based on justice. We do not want to encircle you or be encircled ourselves by destructive missiles ready for launching, nor by the shells of grudges and hatred”. This opened a new chapter in the history of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Sadat’s official visit to Israel, the first by an Arab leader, was a turning point in a process that led to the conclusion of a peace treaty between the two countries in 1979 and the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1983. ... Read More ... Read More

1984

The Disqualification of Meir Kahane

The disqualification of electoral lists is one of the sharpest manifestations of the tension between the right of every citizen to run for political office and the need to defend other fundamental principles against those who could potentially subvert them. In 1984, the Central Elections Commission rejected the Kach list, headed by Meir Kahane, on account of its racist platform. However, the High Court of Justice overruled the Commission on the grounds that it had exceeded its statutory authority. As a result, Kahane ran and won a seat in the Knesset. Four years later, after the Knesset had amended the “Basic Law: The Knesset” to bar racist parties, Kahane was disqualified again; this time the Court upheld the Commission’s decision. In 2002, the law was amended again to permit the disqualification of parties or individual candidates who support armed struggle against the State of Israel. Since then, there have been several attempts to invoke this clause and bar Arab lists and candidates from running for the Knesset, but all of them have been overturned by the Court. ... Read More ... Read More

1984-1991

Aliyah: Operation Moses, Operation Solomon, and the Exodus of Soviet Jewry

In 1984 and again in 1991, the Israeli government carried out two dramatic operations to airlift thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In parallel, the Cold War drew to a close and the Soviet Union collapsed. Starting in 1990, a tidal wave of more than one million Jews made aliyah from the Soviet Union and its successor states. This was a supreme test of the country’s commitment to absorb immigrants and its ability to integrate them into the fabric of Israeli life. Aliyah is the outstanding expression of the vision of the ingathering of the exiles. ... Read More ... Read More

1995

The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

The political process between Israel and the Palestinians, the Knesset’s approval of the Oslo Accords, and the wave of suicide terror attacks in 1994 and 1995 produced severe polarization between Israelis on the right and Israelis on the left. Right-wing opponents of the government blamed its policies for exposing Israel to terrorism and endangering the state’s existence. They launched an aggressive public campaign, claiming that the government had forfeited its legitimacy. At some of these protests, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was denounced as a “traitor”. The campaign of incitement against him reached a new high in the autumn of 1995, after the signing of the “Oslo 2” agreement. On November 4th, at the conclusion of a peace rally in what was then called Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv, Rabin was shot dead by a Jewish assassin. The assassination traumatized the nation, and served as an illustration of the danger of civil strife and the importance of uniting around core values. ... Read More ... Read More

1995

The Alice Miller Case

The ruling by the High Court of Justice on Alice Miller’s petition that she be allowed to apply for the Israel Air Force pilot’s course is considered to be one of its most important decisions to date. This case set a precedent that discrimination against women is illegal. In advance of her conscription, Miller, a member of the academic reserve, had asked to be considered for admission to the elite pilot’s course. Her request was denied on the grounds that standing orders barred women from combat roles. With assistance from the Association for Civil Rights and the Israel Women’s Network, Miller petitioned the High Court. The Court ruled in her favor on the basis of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, enacted in 1992, arguing that “human dignity” includes the right to equal treatment. The ruling paved the way for women to serve in many positions from which they had previously been barred. In 2000, the law was amended to stipulate that every woman has an equal right to serve in any position in the Israel Defense Forces, unless a concrete limitation is justified by the nature of the position. ... Read More ... Read More

2000

The October 2000 Riots and the Orr Commission Report

In October 2000, some of the country’s Arab citizens joined their relatives in Judea and Samaria in violent demonstrations to express their disappointment with the political process and anger over the visit to the Temple Mount by the then-leader of the Likud opposition, Ariel Sharon. Over a span of ten days, violent protests erupted in which twelve Israeli Arabs were killed by police gunfire. A State Commission of Inquiry, headed by Supreme Court Justice Theodore Orr, was appointed to look into these events and their causes. The Commision's report (published in 2003) stated that the violence had erupted in part as a result of persistent discrimination against the Arab sector and the continued neglect it faced by successive Israeli governments. The Commission also blamed inflammatory statements by leaders of the Arab-Israeli community for fanning the flames of violence. It recommended major efforts to reduce the disparities between the Jewish and Arab sectors. The publication of the Commission’s report, along with the High Court’s ruling in 2000 that the policy of leasing State land exclusively to Jews was discriminatory and illegal, contributed to ongoing efforts to reduce inequality between the state’s Arab and Jewish citizens. ... Read More ... Read More

2005

The Disengagement

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to evacuate all the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and a handful of settlements in northern Samaria. The plan was implemented in August-September 2005, after a heated political debate. The fierce public protests against the plan raised fears of civil war. There were also concerns that soldiers affiliated with the National Religious Camp would refuse to follow orders. Nevertheless, the plan was carried out smoothly and without major incidents of violence or insubordination. ... Read More ... Read More

2011

The Social Protests

The summer of 2011 was dominated by a series of demonstrations across the country. The social protests, which began on Facebook, focused on the exorbitant level of rents and the high cost of living in general. Protesters erected hundreds of tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, and then in other towns as well. In response, the Government appointed the Trajtenberg Committee to study the situation and propose ways to address the protesters’ economic demands, especially the high cost of living in Israel, and the expanding social gaps. Some see the protest as a major turning point in the public discourse: after a long period of apathy and escapism, the demonstrations expressed a renewed belief in the average citizen’s ability to influence public affairs. ... Read More ... Read More

2013

The Funeral of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s funeral, the largest in the country’s history, came to be called the “Million-Man Funeral”. Rabbi Yosef was the most eminent Sephardi religious authority and arbiter. He served as Chief Rabbi of Israel and was the founder and spiritual mentor of the Shas Party. His death was a major blow to many. The funeral attracted mourners from all sectors of Jewish-Israeli society—including ultra-Orthodox, National Religious, and traditional Jews. ... Read More ... Read More

2015

The Tribes of Israel Speech (2015)

In a landmark speech to the nation, President Reuven Rivlin warned that demographic trends and deepening social divides are causing Israeli society to disintegrate into four separate tribes: the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs, the National Religious, and the secular Jews. Rivlin called on Israelis to build a unified society on the basis of equality, respect for human dignity, and a shared sense of responsibility. ... Read More ... Read More

The Challenges of Israeli Democracy

Our democracy is complex and challenging. Strong democratic values and institutions are necessary in a properly functioning society. Together, we will be able to preserve Israeli democracy for future generations.

Freedom of Expression - Incitement and Violation of Privacy

  • Freedom of Expression - Incitement and Violation of Privacy

    1:19

  • Majority Rule - Tyranny of the Majority

    1:11

  • Absolute Power - Separation of Powers

    1:20

  • A Substantive Democracy - A Hollow Democracy

    1:30

  • Equality - Freedom

    1:22

  • Freedom of Religion - Freedom from Religion

    1:15

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west—How can I find savor in food? How shall it be sweet to me? How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains? R. Judah Halevy (trans. Nina Salaman)

    There is one place in the world to which we never flee as refugees, or even reach as immigrants, but to which we come home: the Land of Israel Hanna Szenes.

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    If we had a Jewish majority in the country, the first thing we would do here is to establish a situation of total, absolute, and full equality of rights, with no exceptions: whether Jew or Arab, … with no difference before the law. Zev Jabotinsky

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    We will set this on our hearts and purge ourselves of the demon of denunciation and division, as well as the hatred of the Torah and its laws, and clothe ourselves in the attribute of supreme and faithful love that the Torah enjoined us to display for all our brethren who are among us, as is written: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:18). And with this same attribute we will also love the stranger in our midst, as is written: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: “I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34). Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Ouziel

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    I believe, too, that there is nothing in our movement that allows room for the assumption that we ostensibly desire to be foolishly arrogant or to hostilely separate ourselves from the rest of civilized humanity. On the contrary, we have always clearly emphasized that we see our future existence as based on the unity of all peoples and that we want to work towards this unity. It follows that the Zionist idea does not reject the humane concepts of love for all humankind; it includes them. Benjamin Herzl

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    The Jewish nation is not only a national and political unit; it embodies a spiritual and ethical will and has been the carrier of a historical vision ever since its first appearance on the stage of history. David Ben-Gurion

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    Each and every one of us who had the privilege of being present for this event, especially in its earliest period, cannot avoid sensing the unity of the Jewish people and the indestructible link between the reborn State of Israel and the People of Israel. Golda Meir

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    It has been decreed that the two peoples will live here together. That being the case, we must transform this decree into constructive, fruitful, and productive coexistence. Yitzhak Navon

    It is possible for us to live together and coexist, despite everything, despite all the history. Emile Habibi

  • Excerpts from the declaration of independence

    The day will come that our people elects a government that will keep the first promise that was made to the people when the state was born; namely, the election of a constituent assembly whose principal task, in every country that has been newly born, is to provide the people with a constitution, and then the constitutional guarantees of the freedom of every citizen and of the entire people will be enacted. Menachem Begin

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