The equal treatment of Jews and Arabs in dividing up Israeli land is not a "post-Zionist philosophy," Supreme Court President Aharon Barak said on Sunday. Nor does it spell "the end of Zionism," as critics of the High Court's recent decision claimed. Rather, Barak said, the equal treatment of citizens in the Jewish state is the very essence of "Zionism in the fullest sense of the word."
Barak spoke on Sunday at a meeting of the Tel Aviv University Board of Governors, where he was awarded an honorary degree.
Rejecting the appeal to overturn the court's ruling in favor of equality in dividing territory, Justice Barak pointed out that Zionism is not based on discrimination against Arabs. He called the court's original decision "the manifestation of Zionism, which seeks to establish in Israel a national home for the Jews, which allows for equal treatment of the citizens within its borders.
"Indeed, only a national homeland built on the foundations of equality and human dignity can stand the test of time; only a nation that treats all of its children equally can hope to be considered an enlightened, free nation; and only a nation that is founded on equality can live in peace."
Barak compared the ruling to the recent High Court decision not to shorten the sentence of Yoram Skolnik, convicted of the nationalist murder of an Arab.
"If an Arab who kills a Jew for nationalist reasons is deemed too dangerous to be released after serving two-thirds of his sentence, so too should a Jew who kills an Arab for similar reasons," he then decided.
Justice Barak emphasizes that "Zionism set out to establish a Jewish state, and it succeeded... There is no doubt that Israel is a Jewish state according to its tradition, symbols and holidays, its language and culture, and other indications that make it a Jewish state. But as an enlightened nation, it must recognize and relate to all of its citizens as equals, even if they belong to a non-Jewish minority."
In deciding to award an honorary degree to Justice Barak, the Tel Aviv University senate said of him: "He, more than anyone else, has made a formative impression on the Israeli justice system in past years."
The senate recalled Barak's years as attorney-general, when he helped define the criteria for appointing public officials, and acted as a central player in drafting the peace accords with Egypt.
"Justice Barak is a teacher of our generation, a teacher of the Law. He is a leader who with courage and strength designs our society's character," the senate said.