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Israel Is Called Upon To Decide Whether It Can Be Both “Jewish” and “Democratic,” Given Demographic Realities

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 2003

As a result of its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, writes Professor Tony Judt of New York University in The New York Review of Books (Oct. 23, 2003), Israel must consider the question of whether it can, in the long run, be both “Jewish” and “democratic.”  

He argues that Israel faces three unattractive choices: “It can dismantle the settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens. Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy ‘Samaria,’ ‘Judea,’ and Gaza, whose Arab population - added to that of present-day Israel - will become the demographic majority within five to eight years in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both. Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic; but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something that would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah.”  

Dr. Judt believes that, “The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. That is indeed how the hard-liners in Sharon’s cabinet see the choice; and that is why they anticipate the removal of the Arabs as the ineluctable condition for the survival of a Jewish state. ... Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethnoreligious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not - as its more paranoid supporters assert - because it is a Jewish state and no one wants Jews to have a state; but because it is a Jewish state in which one community - Jews- is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.” Given respective birthrates, there will soon be more Arabs than Jews in the combined territory between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Arabs are likely to account for 60 percent of that population and nearly one-third of Israel’s citizens by 2020. Uri Drom of the Israeli Democracy Initiative states: “Either we give the Palestinians equal rights, in which case Israel ceases to be Jewish, or we don’t, in which case Israel ceases to be democratic. The only way for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic is for it to pull out of the territories.” Israeli academic Shlomo Avineri says that a policy of “separation” is “a counsel of despair,” but “the current situation is awful. We remain in a neocolonial relationship with the Palestinians, which forces us to do things that are incompatible with being a democracy.”  

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