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"Israel cannot be both a democratic state and a Jewish state."
The uproar over Israel's proposed loyalty oath for new immigrants has sparked renewed debate over whether Israel's insistence on being a "Jewish state" violates the principles of western democracy. Critics claim that by identifying the country with Jewish symbols, such as the Star of David or menorah, having its national anthem relate to the Jewish yearning for a "return to Zion" and granting Jews automatic citizenship through the Law of Return, Israel is verging on theocratic ideals and rudely affronts its non-Jewish citizens. Israel is not a theocracy, however; it is governed by the rule of law as drafted by a democratically elected parliament and enforced by a highly praised judicial system.
Israeli law adheres to many Jewish religious customs and is largely informed by Jewish values, but this structure makes it no different than other democracies that shape themselves around Christian or Islamic traditions.
The Greek constitution outlines the country as an Eastern Orthodox state; Christian crosses don the flags of Switzerland, Sweden and Finland; the monarchs of the UK, Norway and Denmark head their respective national churches. 413 In addition, Ireland has a law allowing immigrants of "Irish descent or Irish associations" to be exempt from ordinary naturalization rules while Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany and a number of other democratic states also have precedents strikingly similar to Israel's Law of Return. No one, though, claims that these countries cannot be democratic while also maintaining strong connections with their national heritage and religious core.
Israel is the prototypical "ethnic democracy", wherein Jews account for the desired majority, but its democratic foundation still grants all faiths freedom of worship, protects the rights of minorities and allows non-Jews the right to run for government offices and fully participate in political processes.414 Israeli law also grants freedom of the press and freedom to assemble for all citizens, thrives off of open political debate and welcomes immigrants without racial discrimination. In fact, Israel is the largest, per-capita immigrant-absorbing nation in the world with citizens hailing from more than 100 different countries and representing more than six distinct ethnic and religious groups.415
At its core, democracy is "rule of the people, by the people, for the people", and it is therefore understandable that democracy would look slightly different as the shared history, culture and traditions of people differ from one country to the next. Just as Arabs, Turks or Japanese people, Jews have the right to self-determination in their own sovereign state. Israel is that sovereign homeland of the Jewish people and it is also democratic, tenets that are not inherently oxymoronic or contradictory.
413 Douglas J. Feith, "Can Israel Be Both Jewish and Democratic", Wall Street Journal, (October 25, 2010).
414 JPOST Editorial, "No Contradiction Between 'Jewish' and 'Democratic'", Jerusalem Post, (October 19, 2010).
415 Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, "Modern Israel at 62: Tiny Country and Huge Success", Arutz Sheva, (April 19, 2010).
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