Israel can't be a democracy with two classes of citizens
About a fifth of Israel's citizens, the Arabs, are citizens with equal rights, and a democracy's mission is, first and foremost, to defend its minorities.
Cracks are emerging in Israel's democracy. A comprehensive survey compiled by the Israel Democracy Institute and reported in yesterday's Haaretz paints a gloomy, worrisome picture whose gist is a lack of understanding of the basic principles of Israel's political system.
Almost all the survey's findings point to this trend. A majority of the public supports predicating voting rights on a declaration of loyalty to the state; only 17% of the public believes the state's self-definition as a democracy should take precedence over its self-definition as Jewish; an absolute majority believes that only Jews should be involved in decisions crucial to the state; a majority supports allocating more resources to Jews than Arabs; a third of Jewish citizens support putting Arab citizens in detention camps in wartime; and about two-thirds think Arabs should not become ministers.
These findings follow campaigns of hatred and incitement by rabbis and politicians against Israel's Arab citizens. They also follow anti-democratic bills that have been discussed, and in some cases even passed, by the Knesset. And all this happened without the voices of the prime minister, education minister and leader of the opposition being heard.
The survey results are therefore not surprising, but they are extremely disturbing. At their root lies the twisted belief that democracy means the tyranny of the majority, and that equal rights for all the state's citizens is not an integral part of the democratic system.
The survey must spark resolute action. The leadership of the state and all its organs, but especially the education system and the Knesset, must now mobilize to inculcate true democratic values among the public that holds such beliefs and opinions. All the relevant bodies have an obligation to take action against the ignorance and nationalism reflected in the survey.
It must be reiterated at every opportunity that about a fifth of Israel's citizens, the Arabs, are citizens with equal rights, and a democracy's mission is, first and foremost, to defend its minorities. It must also be reiterated that a democracy cannot have two classes of citizens, first-class and second-class. And, most importantly, the next generation of Israelis must be taught these lessons.
The importance of this effort cannot be overstated: What is at stake is the very nature of Israel's society and political system. Cracks in either will endanger Israel's future no less than any external threat. The kind of society reflected by this survey will not be able to preserve democracy - or even a veneer thereof.
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