Understanding Jewish Statehood

Everything you need to begin the discussion:
Is Israel a typical liberal democracy?

Israel is a unique country in many ways. In just a few decades, it integrated millions of immigrants from all over the world with diverse cultural traditions. It has become a hub of innovation in a politically and economically repressed part of the world. But Israel is not especially different in being a democracy with a dominant national group—the Jewish community—and a significant national minority group—the Arab community. Neither is Israel distinct in extending special citizenship benefits to its diaspora community, nor in capturing its national symbols on its flag, in its anthem, and in its myriad expressions of public life. However, many Americans wrestle with the claim that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, and might be prone to charges that Israel has no right to exist.

Arguments against Israel’s legitimacy can be especially perplexing without the context of democratic practices outside of the U.S. Israel’s government is a liberal democracy: a representative democracy combined with the protection of individual rights. Liberal democracies recognize that voting alone is not sufficient in creating a just society because “the tyranny of the majority” can trample minority or individual rights. Those who claim that Israel is not a legitimate democracy or country may not realize that the vast majority of liberal democracies were founded with a very different sense of purpose than the U.S. America was founded on the idea of “civic nationalism” by which all groups and individuals claim equal status under the law, and in the country’s national and cultural ethos, whereas other democracies were founded with the purpose of giving sovereignty to a particular national group.

Readers of this primer will gain an understanding of how a Jewish state fits into the varied gamut of liberal democracies worldwide, many of which emerged out of similar historical circumstances and adopted comparable systems and practices.

Readers will see that the model of Jewish statehood is not inherently discriminatory or the least bit abnormal, but a common expression of nationhood. A Jewish state is no more unusual than a French, German, or Spanish state.

The primer will address several main points:

1. The Jewish people constitute not only a religious community, but also a distinct nation, and thus have a right to self determination
2. A bi-national state, or a “one state solution,” would not serve the interests of Jews and Palestinians
3. Israel’s Law of Return, allowing Jews worldwide to immigrate to Israel, is common practice for democratic countries
4. Israel’s incorporation of Jewish symbols into national holidays, its national anthem, and flag, among other representations, is normal for any democracy
5. Israel’s muddling of religion and state, while problematic, is not unusual for democracies
6. Israel’s continued rule in the West Bank, while also problematic, does not render the entire country undemocratic and illegitimate.

As readers will see, Israel’s practices, even those that are troubling, such as the role of religion in the state or the continued rule over Palestinians in the West Bank, are commonplace for even some of the most well-established and respected democracies

By issuing this primer, The David Project hopes to enhance the conversation on Israel by adding greater depth and context to Israel’s place in the world.

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