Israel down the line: Not Jewish, not Democratic?

I’ve changed the headline on this piece because a lot of people are misrepresenting what I actually wrote, and I think I may have chosen a headline that doesn’t properly reflect the piece itself.  The original headline was “Israel: Not Jewish, not Democratic” and the piece itself looks ahead at what is likely to happen to Israel’s character should a two-state solution not come about.

Here’s the article:

Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

Looking ahead at 2013 and beyond, there are two distinct trends which I see that are coalescing into one unmistakable reality: Israel is not going to be either a Jewish or Democratic state down the line.

In the absence of a two-state solution, we’re not going to be democratic, and to me there looks to be very, very little chance we’re going to have a two-state deal with the Palestinians. And that means that we’ll be heading into a different reality – either a binational state, or some other form of solution where an entity of “Palestine” is not recognised by us and the Palestinians don’t recognise our “Jewish state.”

The way things are shaping up, our next government will likely be the most right-wing we’ve ever had here and its common denominator will be the annexation of large areas of the West Bank and the ratification of a report which says that Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are legal under international law – the Levy Report. Whether you agree with this worldview or not, the fact is that most members of the next government are going to work to make this a reality.

The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is the most “moderate” we’re likely to have here – and what’s depressing about that is that even the maximum that a moderate Israeli government is willing to give isn’t anywhere near the minimum the Palestinians are willing to accept. That’s how “moderate” Abbas and his associates are – they’ve been offered everything and they still refused. And since we’re not going to have a moderate government here for at least the next four years, the Palestinians are not going to get their demands. And after the ‘moderate’ Palestinians go, their successors will be much more extreme, if that’s even possible to imagine.

So there won’t be peace and there won’t be two states.

A few weeks ago I reported that in a closed meeting Avigdor Lieberman said that when the day comes, and it will come, when Israel has to choose between being either a Jewish or Democratic state, the government will choose Jewish over democratic. Lieberman argued that since Israel is the ‘only Jewish state in the world’ that this trumped being ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’.

There will not be a two state solution with the Palestinians in our generation, and possibly the one after that as well, Lieberman said. And he knows what he’s talking about.

So, in the absence of a two-state solution, in essence we are looking at an Israel that controls about 4 million Palestinians and doesn’t give them the full rights of self-determination as enshrined in international law. No matter how justified our claims are to the places of our ancestral birthright [Shilo, Hebron, Beit El], and they are justified, without a deal with the Palestinians, the world is just not going to accept the rules of the game as we set them. The only game the world is ready to accept is a two-state solution that gives rise to a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish and Democratic Israel. There is no other game in town for them, and here I’m talking about our friends like America, Canada, England, France, Germany and Australia. I’m not even talking about the Arab countries, nor Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, China, India and many others – they couldn’t care less about our legitimate rights in this land. But our next government is going to hunker down and take on the world – and the world will oblige.

So instead of trying to remain a democracy in a situation of no-peace and no solution, maybe we should just let it go and lower the world’s expectations? Many settlers I’ve spoken to believe this is the correct path too. What’s more important than living in a democracy, they say, is living in the only Jewish state in the world.

We never really were the only democracy in the Middle East, I’m sorry to say, but its true. Our democracy stops at the Green Line, and in any case is being challenged on this side of the line too.

Ok so it looks like we won’t be a democratic state. But we’ll be a Jewish state so that’s good enough, right?

But will we be a Jewish state?

In 2010 one-third of Israeli marriages happened overseas because these lovebirds didn’t want to deal with the Israeli rabbinate. What’s more, 90% percent of the roughly 300,000 Israelis who immigrated here under the Law of Return (and then told that they were not Jewish enough) aren’t interested in undergoing state sanctioned conversion. So they and their offspring – close to one million souls –  won’t be considered Jewish by the state.

Add to that the West Bank Palestinian, Arab Israeli, Israeli Druze and Bedouin birthrate staying as it is now, and well, let’s just say they won’t be converting to Judaism anytime soon, so in a situation of no two-state solution, their numbers will have to count.

The soaring haredi birthrate and their continued stranglehold on the institutions of religious power increasingly alienate a majority of secular Israelis – many of whom, especially the young, are considering emigrating. Even modern orthodox Israeli Jews are not Jewish enough for the hardcore Haredim, whose number is increasing exponentially.

“We are fast approaching a situation where one half of the country doesn’t recognize the Jewishness of the other half,” says Rabbi David Stav, a leading modern-Orthodox rabbi and candidate for the post of Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi in the Chief Rabbinate.

So if half of the Jews here don’t recognise the other half, and the millions of non-Jews here won’t be recognised under a one-state solution and given full rights, how can we be a Jewish state?

We can’t.

The fact is that if there is no two-state solution [because neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Israeli government wants it] and no structural reform of state religious institutions in Israel takes place, not only will Israel not be a democratic state  – it won’t technically be a Jewish state either.

And that’s why I’m not excited about this election. There’s no binary outcome here, no ‘either or’, no alternate realities to choose from. It’s not about war or peace. It’s not about deep reform or status quo. The result is predetermined; this is our fate, whether we want it or not. And, according to the left-right Knesset political blocs calculus, it looks like we do want it.

And in that case I suggest a dose of realism. Instead of holding onto time-worn platitudes and slogans, I say we start calling ourselves what we truly are: a state in the unmaking, neither fully Jewish nor fully democratic and heading away from both.


Abandon illusions all ye who enter here.

0 thoughts on “Israel down the line: Not Jewish, not Democratic?

  1. Bro, this is a masterpieceBro, this is a masterpiece
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from orange

  2. Remember the 3-state solution we talked about last year? A secular Israel with Tel-Aviv as a capital, a secular Palestine with Ramallah as a capital, and let the fanatics fight it out over Jerusalem and the so-called holy places? It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but looking more and more enticing.

  3. Sorry Amir, but I think that you are buying into the left wing propaganda. Things are not as simple as you put them. You are relying on the past to predict the future and that usually doesn’t work.

    There is no democracy in the West bank and that is a fact. When we talk of going back to the 1967 borders we mean that we will go back to where we were, but they will not. The west bank was part of Jordan and Gaza was part of Egypt, So just as one option for a long term solution we can try to go back to pre 67 borders as they really were.
    This is only one optional solution, there are others.

    I am not trying to say it is the right solution so please spare your attacks on it, all I am saying is that the Israeli left has been saying for a long time that there is only one option, but that is not true. Giving the Palestinians a tiny state that is cut into two pieces is not a great solution to begin with. It was an Idea that at one point many people believed in, and today less do.

    Ultra orthodox now…
    This whole country was a conceived as a consequence of a major shift in the Jewish world of the late 19th century and the early 20th. Enlightenment changed everything, and the Haredim can scream as much as they want, but their world as it exists today is a reaction to massive amounts of Jews going on a new path – that of enlightenment. Haredim and Hasidim are as new a concept as secular Jews. The Jewish world was completely different before all this happened. A surge towards secularism created a reaction in the other side, and they became more extreme. But this is changing today, more and more people on their side want out of that world in hope of creating a new path one that is at the moment unknown.
    There is no way of predicting the Jewish world of 100 years into the future.

    Once again please spare the criticism, because I am not saying that I actually believe that Amsalem is the answer, he might be, but he might not.

    I do believe that there is an answer.

    When I say that you have given in to the left wing propaganda, I am referring to the loss of faith in our people, in the Jewish people as a whole. The left of the 90’s was infected by that virus and today it is dying because of it. They don’t like Israel or Israelis as they are today, they feel that their country is dying, but it was never theirs to begin with. They had a vision of how this country should look and that vision didn’t manifest itself. Boohoo.
    That is the reason that less and less people are sympathizing with ideological group although their ideas are in many ways wide spread believed truths. It’s hard to vote for someone who keeps telling us how terrible we are at everything.

    Instead of the dying one a new left will rise, and will eventually win the elections because that’s how democracy works. One party will not win for 50,60 or 70 years. At some point people will demand change and it will come from the opposition. The ruling party will be so corrupt that the people will prefer anything instead. It happened with Mapai.

    I truly believe that the Jewish people are the most interesting group of people in the world and I am proud to be part of this amazing nationality and religion (I am secular….) I truly believe that we have with in us the power to overcome these obstacles together, and that the worst thing that could happen to us is loss of faith in ourselves.

    The Jewish people always had problems and we were never a homogeneous group. It would be safe to say that some of the biggest assholes ever to be born came from us, but you can’t overlook the great people that came from our group.

    There are solutions at hand, and we are the only ones that can implement them.

    We will be democratic and Jewish! There is a way.

    Stop complaining, and go make it happen.


  4. Amir, I don’t understand how the fact that Israel is about to elect a very right-wing government makes it non-democratic. I remember the elections bit from when I learned about democracy in 4th grade, and about how the people decide by majority, but land concessions wasn’t one of the definitions. Can you clarify that?

    1. Hi Zev
      You misunderstood my point: I said that it doesn’t matter who wins the elections, right or left, because the Palestinians won’t deal with either, but we are definitely electing a right wing government which makes a peace deal even more of a remote possibility. So without a two state solution Israel can’t become a democratic state.

  5. Hi Amir, I enjoyed reading your analysis, despite it being bleak and depressing. I hope that as it has happened in the past, things will not fray that fast and that a two-state will eventually come about due to inevitable international pressure. Also, keep in mind that at the end of the day, the Haredi sector is still not large enough to call the shots. Additionally, Israel’s fragile balance of its Jewish and democratic facets is enshrined in its legal system. Therefore, I choose to believe that any deterioration of both these aspects will be curbed by opposing forces that are just as active.

  6. Steve,
    what we can do ? about jewishness, democracy ?
    Unfortunately, we have outsourced the definition of who is a jew to an extremistic group. Lets call them for simplicity ‘haredim’. The term in Iran would be Mullahs. Maybe it was Ben-Gurion, maybe it was already before him or after….I don’t really know. These ‘guys’ don’t want to have anything to do with us. Not just in the many ways described nicely by Amir in an earlier article; right now they still need us, for the ‘big things’, the wordly stuff …what happs in the next generation?…will they still need us or even tolerate us seculars? At the beginning, when they were so few, not so powerfull, neat group, it looked like the right idea to have them deal with this issue of jewishness. They were few, nice to show to tourists, had a folcloristic touch. I used to go to Bne-Berak on Saturday to show to my (non-jewish) guests from abroad how ‘real’ jews look like.
    I think is time to break with this blanc mandate. I am pulling back my mandate to them to decide who is and who isn’t.
    Give the job to some known scholars, some normal, civilized, modern people. A comittee can and should also include religious ‘big heads’, as opposed to the fanatics ‘small heads’ rulling this issue nowadays.
    Call a spade a spade ? Lets do it:
    These are a tyran group of the worse sort. Mulahs. You don’t believe
    …..and if anybody wishes to attack this argumentation, just talk to any person trying to undergo a conversion.
    If you think conversion is turning people to become jews? sweet dreams. It is the rare exception when this happens. The process is humiliating, intransparent, kafkaik; it turning secular jews (this is what they thought of themselves before) to people really hating jews.
    If they wouldnt consider themselves jews, they would become anti-semites. I was shocked, ashamed.

    Lets give back to the people what belongs the people; the determination who is jew and who is not, the persons self-determination as a person. In more plain words, I suggest something similar or as easy like getting a citizenship. You served the army, you speak the language, you consider yourself a jew, you sign at the passport authority that you are a jew, the you are a jew! period.

    So who are these back-clothed bastards which I usualy very seldomly meet and have zero to do with in my normal day to day life to decide if this is in their interest to consider me a jew or not ? and why in the world this is the only thing which counts?
    This is highly anti-democratic. It robs me from my civil or may other rights as well. Quotting Rabbi David Stav of already 50% divide in Israel the question remaining how long before major clouds appear on the horizont, a ‘jewishness’ breakout… a religious war between the pragmatics and the fanatics? I hope never, but lets act now.
    If 300,000 israelis goins elsewhere for a wedding, for a population like France, 70 million ?…would be like more the 3-4 million french going to UK and Germany for a wedding as their church / institution don’t want to accept them as they are?….which french goverment will stay there in place ? for how many seconds ?
    No democratic government in any country, would stay in power.
    It is a boiling social issue which will eventually erupt. And when it will, it will be bad!
    I think the fix starts with getting the stamping business out their hands.

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