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Monday, October 25, 2010

Jewish and Democratic?

Doug Feith explains why Israel's democracy is a bit more like Europe's than like the United States.
Israel is by no means unique among democracies in considering itself the embodiment of the national existence of a specific people. In fact, most democracies see themselves that way. Most have laws and practices that specially recognize a particular people's history, language, culture, religion and group symbols, even though they also have minorities from other groups.

The United States is unusual in this regard. It is among the most liberal of democracies, in the sense that it is committed to the principle that laws should, in general, ignore group identities (ethnic, religious or regional) and treat citizens equally as individuals. Canada, Australia and New Zealand—likewise lands of new settlement—are among the other countries on this liberal end of the democratic spectrum.

The democracies of Europe and East Asia and those in the former republics of the Soviet Union, meanwhile, tend to cluster on the ethnic side of the spectrum. Numerous laws and institutions in those nations favor a country's principal ethnic group but are nevertheless accepted as compatible with democratic principles. Christian crosses adorn the flags of Switzerland, Sweden, Greece and Finland, among other model democracies, and the United Kingdom's flag boasts two kinds of crosses.

Several of these democracies have monarchs—and in the U.K., Norway and Denmark, the monarchs head national churches. France famously protects the integrity of the French language and the interests of French speakers, as do pro-French forces in Canada.

Ireland has a law that allows applicants of "Irish descent or Irish associations" to be exempted from ordinary naturalization rules. Poland, Croatia and Japan have similar laws of return favoring members of their own respective ethnic majorities. Many other examples exist.

Israel was founded as a national home for the Jews, recognized as a nationality and not just a religious group. After Allied forces conquered Palestine from the Ottomans in World War I, Britain, France, Italy and other leading powers of the day supported the idea that the Jewish people, long shamefully abused as exiles throughout the diaspora, should be offered the opportunity to reconstitute a Jewish-majority state in their ancient homeland of Palestine.

Those powers planned that the Arabs, whose nationalist leaders from across the Middle East insisted that they were a single, indivisible people, would exercise national self-determination over time in Syria, Lebanon, Mesopotamia (now Iraq), Arabia and elsewhere. Britain soon decided to put the 78% of Palestine east of the Jordan River under exclusive Arab administration, barring Jewish settlement there.


So democracies vary in the degree to which their laws take account of ethnicity. Their common practices provide an answer to our question: It is not antidemocratic for Israel to protect its status as a Jewish state in ways similar to those used by the French, Swiss, British, Germans, Italians, Lithuanians, Japanese and others to protect the status of their countries as national homelands.
Feith's argument also works for why the 'Palestinians' have to accept Israel as a Jewish state in order for there to be peace. It's not anti-Democratic to say that there will be no right of return and that Israel is entitled to take steps to ensure that it has an overwhelming Jewish majority.


At 1:04 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - let's put it on the record - yes, Israel is an ethnocracy.

So is nearly every other nation on the planet and they are homelands of a specific people.

The only thing different about Israel is that the rest of the world wants to deprive the Jewish people of their homeland. The only thing controversial is the Jews have one.

That is why the Middle East conflict has continued to this very day and has no end in sight. Its not about territory or borders - again, its about Jewish sovereignty.


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