December 25, 2005


Constituting Israel: Israel, like Britain, has no written constitution. Most Israelis today say the country should have one. But can Israel ever agree on how to define itself as a nation? (David B. Green, December 25, 2005, Boston Globe)

If Sharon's stroke had been more serious, the country, between governments, could well have been plunged into a constitutional crisis. That is, if it had a constitution.

When Israel came into existence as a state, in May 1948, its founders expected it to be a matter of years, if not months, before it adopted a constitution. Until then, its Declaration of Independence enumerated the basic principles upon which the state would stand, including equality of rights for all citizens, and ''freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the Prophets of Israel." It also anticipated the preparation of a constitution, and when it became clear that that wasn't happening, the Knesset resolved to enact a number of initial ''basic laws," which were meant to set out the workings of the fundamental institutions and principles of the state and to serve as the building blocks of the eventual document.

Nonetheless, 57 years and 11 basic laws later, Israel still lacks a constitution. Some would even say that the country's lack of a document of basic principles of government explains the political mess that it is in.

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli public is in favor of a constitution, and a committee of the Knesset has spent the past three years holding hearings on the subject, preparing to draft its own version of one. But saying that Israelis desire a constitution is like saying that they would like to be at peace with their Palestinian neighbors: It doesn't begin to suggest the major constitutional issues that divide them.

There was an amazing story this week about how, after winning the election, Ariel Sharon would simply get to appoint up to a third of the new Knesset.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2005 8:49 AM

Why would anyone waste time writing a constitution, when they could just adopt ours? It's in the public domain, isn't it?

Posted by: Kirk Parker at December 26, 2005 3:56 PM

The problem is that:
1) most people prefer to incorporate articles in Constitutions that properly belong in the legislative sphere, not constitutional law, because it enshrines their pet ideas

2) Israel is an ethnic state specifically designed as a homeland for Jews, not a citizen state to give everyone equal rights regardless of ethnicity or religion

3) Many prefer parliamentary democracy instead of a Presidential system

Posted by: Chris Durnell at December 27, 2005 11:38 AM