Judaism or Democracy? Elections Will Show Israel's True Profile

This is an opportunity for Israel to look at itself in the mirror and decide what kind of state it is.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
Hundreds of Israelis demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "Jewish nation-state" bill, on November 29, 2014 outside the Netanyahu's residency in Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Israelis demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "Jewish nation-state" bill, on November 29, 2014 outside the Netanyahu's residency in Jerusalem.Credit: AFP
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

The prevailing opinion seems to be that the expected elections are totally unnecessary, and that they are happening solely because of the mutual disgust and bad blood among those at the helm.

Bad interpersonal relations among ministers always have a place of honor in the fall of a government, and in the current one, which is barely limping to the finish line, there were far too many childish fights (like those common among elementary-school kids who curse each other’s mothers to get at what’s most precious to them) – for example, between the so-called Jewish nation-state bill vs. the zero-VAT bill. But these fights were merely the outer wrappings of a political world so cynical that it had convinced itself it was the real world. It isn’t.

The looming elections are the most justified elections ever. Israel must look at itself in the mirror and decide what kind of state it is – a Jewish-nationalist-isolationist state, or a liberal, democratic, secular one; the Israel of the nation-state bill, which discards the value of equality and divides its population into first- and second-class citizens, or a state whose core values are human and civil rights; a state that engraves Jewish religious education on its heart, or a state that champions core curriculum studies at school because it wants to strengthen high-tech and higher education; or, a state that develops settlements en route to annexation, apartheid and sanctions, or a state that seeks peace.

Yes, life is a compromise, and there are other clichés that contain a measure of truth. But there are certain values that in real life – not in the world of self-stupefying political spin – are simply like oil and water. You cannot legislate discriminatory laws, abuse everyone who isn’t Jewish, incite against them – and then call yourself a democrat. Democracy is the rule of the majority, but it is also about protecting the rights of minorities, and government ministers who incite against Arabs are violating basic democratic principles.

You cannot be a racist and a democrat. You cannot use all available government channels to teach people that Jews are superior and unique, and then claim that you're granting civic equality to those who aren’t Jewish. This is best demonstrated by the Druze and Circassian protest against the nation-state bill, which embodies the entire potential of right-wing destructiveness.

You cannot undermine the courts and be a democrat. The courts, especially the High Court of Justice, are the embodiment of the principle of the separation of powers, and the defense of civil and human rights against the power of the legislative and executive branches. A government that plays tag with the High Court and tries for a third time to pass a law that was already invalidated twice is a government that undermines the rule of law.

It’s not the zero-VAT bill aimed at reducing housing prices for first-time home buyers – which would have cost what these early elections will cost – nor the subversion Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses him of, that makes Yair Lapid look responsible for the coalition breakdown.

Even if his Yesh Atid party is somewhat weakened, Lapid still has a double-digit number of Knesset seats in his corner, representing primarily secular voters who are moderate and who support some sort of peace process, even if only for pragmatic reasons. His voters did not elect him to work for Habayit Yehudi’s Orit Strock and the Jewish community of Hebron, but rather to give them a better life, which only a diplomatic solution can assure. Lapid can try to flirt with statements like “Jerusalem is an idea,” but for his voters, represented by party members like Ofer Shelah, Yael German and Jacob Perry, it’s more important to live in democratic state with a Western orientation.

Whether they are similar to those of previous elections, or even if the Knesset moves more toward the right, the results of the upcoming balloting will sketch the country’s true profile. If indeed the public prefers Judaism over democracy, then the public will have to make do with a narrow, right-wing government led by Netanyahu, Ze’ev Elkin and Naftali Bennett. The democratic bloc must no longer give it a kosher certificate.

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