By Ted Belman
My article Get the Arabs to make a better offer got a lot of attention and many comments, the last of which is by my friend, Alex Eisenberg.
While you are at it, please comment on Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. How do you define these terms and are they in conflict. To start the discussion I looked up the definition of democracy (rule by the people) and found that it is often coupled with human rights. This lead me to Demoracy and Human Rights, a publication of UNHCDR.
Israel has always been in the religion/secularism limbo from its very inception. The state is secular, just as a lot of its laws. But religion does rule over some basic aspects of law in Israel, the most prominent example of which having always been the marriage issue. It’s not possible to legally marry anyone outside of religion. Either you follow the Halakha or get married abroad.
The point is how important the specifically religion-based laws are. This is very easy to understand. Religion-based laws are meant to keep Jewish identity. As most high-schooled Westerners know, Jews try to marry only fellow Jews. The reason is that intermarriage has always meant assimilation for Jews – assimilation means you are still a Jew but your grandchild will not be one. Since Israel is supposed to be a Jewish state, and Jewish identity is exclusively determined by religion, there is no way out of the limbo as far as the current definition of democracy is concerned.
This is not empty talk. On the contrary, it touches the core of our concept of democracy as a positive achievement of our time. Here is the issue: most ethnicities are nowadays primarily defined by common language, habits, national borders and only secondarily by religion. This is very new in human history and is what makes a Catholic American just as American as a Jewish one. It’s a modern, secular definition of nationality. However, this was not the case in the ancient world, when religion was the basis of nationality. That’s why the Torah speaks of the superiority of the Jewish God as opposed to the gods of the nations. The Torah came about as a new revolutionary ideology meant to solve the inherent problems of the others. And it opened the gates for new adherents through conversion. How is this different from Christianity or Islam? In that you are not only embracing a new religion but a new nationality! After all, where in the world would you be granted citizenship in a state by converting to a religion other than in Israel? This simple fact in itself contradicts all claims that Israel be a fully ’secular’ democracy. It is not and it cannot be, lest its existence as a Jewish state is doomed.
As you see, Israel MUST be a religion-based state… or cease to be a Jewish state. If it ceases to be a Jewish state, what is it going to be then? A bi-national state? Of course not, because Islam regards all borders as a temporary burden until time is ripe for the re-establishment of the caliphate.
Here is the answer: all religions have an ideology, since religion has always dictated political decisions from times immemorial. Even in the so-called Western democracies a lot is still determined by religion, except they don’t necessarily use religious terminology – the calendar is Christian, many national holidays are Christian, etc. Have you ever seen a Jewish president in the most pluralistic Western society, the US? Or in France, or a British prime-minister? Can you imagine a Jewish British queen? Of course you can’t, because British crown is all but synonymous with the Anglican church.
So what’s the point of trying to define Israel as a ’secular democracy’? This is a myth. Israel ALREADY is a so-called secular democracy. By trying to avoid Israel’s inevitable and obvious religious definition, the West and the people within it who believe the secular democracy myth are merely denying Israel’s right to exist, which is precisely what the West has been doing for 2000 years… nothing new.