WP: How Israel’s Jewishness is overtaking its democracy

Western notions of democracy, or, frankly, any notions of democracy, are not important parts of Judaism.

Democracy is not that important. Wouldn’t you rather have a dictator who was on your side?

I don’t expect any group to care about outsiders. It doesn’t bother me that many Jews chant, “Death to the Arabs” and that many Arabs and Muslims chant, “Death to the Jews.” Different groups have different interests that often conflict. Life is a conflict for scarce resources such as land and water.

Washington Post: When U.S. leaders and commentators warn that the absence of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will make it impossible for Israel to be both a Jewish and democratic state, they generally mean that a Jewish democracy requires a Jewish majority; if Israel encompasses the West Bank and Gaza, Arabs will become a majority. What they may not have realized is that, in the meantime, half of Israeli Jews have come to seek not only a Jewish majority but even Jewish exclusivity…

This major study was conducted from October 14, 2014, to May 21, 2015, among 5,601 Israeli adults ages 18 and older. (Disclosure: I served as an adviser to the project). It found that 48 percent of all Israeli Jews agree with the statement “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel,” while 46 percent disagreed. Even more troubling, the majority of every non-secular Jewish group, including 71 percent of Datim (modern orthodox Jews) agreed with the statement.

…This view has consequences for citizen rights. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of all Jewish Israelis (98 percent) feel that Jews around the world have a birthright to make aliya (immigration to Israel with automatic Israeli citizenship). But what is striking is that 79 percent of all Jews, including 69 percent of Hilonim (secular Jews) say that Jews deserve “preferential treatment” in Israel — so much for the notion of democracy with full equal rights for all citizens.

These attitudes spell trouble for Arab citizens of Israel who constitute 20 percent of Israel’s citizens. It’s true that attitudes are dynamic; they are partly a function of Jewish-Arab relations within Israel itself, but also outside, especially within the broader Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Like their Jewish counterparts, Arab citizens of Israel (mostly Muslim, but also including Christians and Druze), identify themselves with their ethnicity (Palestinian or Arab) or religion above their Israeli citizenship. And these ethnic/religious identities intensify when conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza intensifies. There is no way to fully divorce the broader Palestinian-Israeli conflict from Arab-Jewish relations within Israel.

In recent years, this latter linkage has become central for two reasons: loss of hope for a two-state solution, and the rise of social media that has displayed extremist attitudes that used to be limited to private space. In the era of Facebook and Twitter, Arab and Jewish citizens post attitudes that deeply offend the other: An Arab expresses joy at death of Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinians, while a Jew posts a sign reading “death to Arabs.” Hardly the stuff of co-existence. Leave it to opportunist politicians, extremists and incitement to do the rest.

First, there is something wrong with positing the possibility of Arabs as constituting a demographic problem for Israel. It legitimizes the privileging of Jewishness over democracy. It also distorts the reason why Israel is obligated to end occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; it has nothing to do with the character of Israel as such, but with international law and United Nations resolutions.

Second, while states can define themselves as they wish (and are accepted by the international community accordingly), the American embrace of the “Jewishness” of Israel, cannot be decoupled from the Palestinian-Israeli context, or from the overarching American demand that all states must be for all their citizens equally.

In part, this is based on the notion that the UN General Assembly (Resolution 181) recommended in 1947 dividing mandatory Palestine into an “Arab” and a “Jewish” State. In part, it’s based on the notion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a political conflict that can be resolved through two states, one manifesting the self-determination of Jews as a people, and one manifesting the right of self-determination of Palestinians as a people. The two were bound together. An embrace of a Jewish state that excludes a Palestinian state defeats the principle.

If two states become impossible, America chooses democracy over Jewishness. In fact, this has been consistently reflected in American public attitudes across the political spectrum, most recently in this November 2015 poll; in the absence of a two-state solution, 72 percent of Americans would want a democratic Israel, even if it meant that Israel ceases to be a Jewish state with a Jewish majority.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
This entry was posted in Israel. Bookmark the permalink.