This blog post is by Zach Schaffer. Zach is a junior studying political science and communication/rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh. On campus he is an Israel advocate, the Executive Vice-President of Hillel Jewish Student Union, photographer, and brother of Beta Theta Pi.
Is Israel a typical liberal democracy? Can the country be both Jewish and democratic? Is a ‘Jewish state’ inherently racist? Is Israel’s Law of Return discriminatory?These are questions that even the most seasoned Israel advocates often grapple with. In its latest primer, "Understanding Jewish Statehood," The David Project incisively investigates these questions.
As a college student, this primer has already empowered me to engage my peers on campus and discuss Israel's liberal democracy - something I previously knew too little about.
Beginning with the need for a Jewish state, the primer answers the question: Why should a religion—Judaism—have a state? The primer explains the history of the Jewish people and elucidates the notion that “being a nation and a religious community are not mutually exclusive.” The David Project backs up this claim further when they explain the prevalence of ethnic nationalism in other countries besides Israel.
On the questions concerning the Right of Return and the Arab minority the primer discusses these issue in clear terms by contrasting Israeli society with other Western nations. Looking at everything from socioeconomic gaps between majorities and minorities to the concept of a “national minority,” Israel’s challenges are put into a relatable perspective. I gained an understanding of both the issue at hand as well as how I can best communicate that with others.
On many occasions I have stood silent because I did not have answers to some questions—this primer has changed that. It is a cogent and concise compilation of the hardest questions concerning Israel’s democratic nature. As someone that has visited Israel and even the Knesset on many occasions, I have always known that Israel is a democracy. However, it is often hard to explain that to others in a clear away. It is especially hard to defend against the specious claims hurled at me doubting Israel’s democratic nature.
After reading the primer, I have a better understanding of Israel’s democratic nature and how to explain it in a relatable way. I have already taken what I have learned and discussed the topic with others, and I am looking forward to citing the document more in future conversations.