Israel Celebrates Its Birthday While Its People Are Among the World's Happiest

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As Israel celebrates its 68th birthday today, even facing talk of a possible new border war, its people are among the happiest on Earth. A look at its founding document helps explain why – and helps show the power of a faith-infused cause, rightly understood.

Even as a confirmed admirer of Israel, I had never read “The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” (linked above) until I saw it in a full-page ad in the May 12 Wall Street Journal. It was a revelation.

For those willing to see, it has long been obvious that Israel is a remarkable oasis of human rights in a region notably hostile both to those rights and to Israel itself. It guarantees voting rights not just for Jews but for Arabs, including Muslims, and it protects most of the rights to speech and religious practice that are so central to Western, especially American, republics.

What I didn’t know is that it was founded that way. I had imagined that in its violent beginnings – Arab neighbors attacked it immediately upon the Jewish state being formally constituted on May 15, 1948 – it probably had started as an only semi-free state, aspiring to full republican rights but too beleaguered at the time to guarantee them.

But the Declaration says otherwise. The document says the new nation, from day one, “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.” It appealed to Arab inhabitants by reassuring them of “full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” Finally, rather than declaring hostility towards its neighbors, it said “we extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness.”

Israel has lived up to those pledges. Its courts feature non-Jewish judges. (Surrounding nations, of course, would never consider allowing a Jew to sit in judgment of any matter under law or equity – or, usually, even to openly acknowledge his own Jewishness without fear of arrest.) Its streets teem with non-Jewish merchants. And yes, the non-Jewish holy places operate freely – or, rather, freely for their own adherents, even to the exclusion of Jews and Christians.