When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we generally divide Jews into hawks and doves or right-wingers and left-wingers. But a more accurate division might be “security Jews” vs. “democracy Jews.”
“Security Jews” are those whose greatest concern is Israel’s vulnerability to military attack. They emphasize Israel’s fragility as a small state in a bad neighborhood. They call for defensible borders, and for strategic depth that did not exist prior to 1967. They talk of a military presence along the Jordan River that will enable Israel to repel a possible invasion from current or future enemies.
“Democracy Jews” are those whose focus is on retaining Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state. They worry about Israeli control of Palestinians in the territories. They insist that “Jewish and democratic” cannot be a cliché or an empty slogan, but must mean a state that has a secure Jewish majority and is democratic in the commonly accepted meaning of that term. They focus less on the specifics of what a peace arrangement might look like and more on the political outcomes that such an arrangement must assure.
Most “security Jews,” of course, voice support for a democratic State of Israel and most “democracy Jews” voice support for a militarily secure State of Israel. But in both their internal thought processes and public advocacy, each group is primarily focused on the value that they see as most important at this moment.
I worry a great deal about Israel’s security, and I write and speak about it often. I know that in the dangerous world in which we live, Israel will not survive without reasonable security arrangements. Nonetheless, on balance, I put myself in the democracy camp, and I do so for the following reasons:
First, if the case for democracy is not made now, I worry that it may be too late. A Jewish and democratic Israel requires a secure peace, and as a realist, I see little chance for such a peace today. But I am concerned that changing facts on the ground might make it impossible for there ever to be such a peace. In the last 15 years, the number of settlers outside the major settlement blocks has grown from approximately 30,000 to approximately 80,000. If those numbers continue to grow, there will never be an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic because the massive evacuations required to achieve it will be politically unthinkable.
Second, Zionism requires the Jewish state to be a democratic state. Democracy is not incidental; it is essential to the Zionist vision. For Herzl, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, Begin, Rabin, and Sharon, a Jewish state that was not a true democracy was a contradiction in terms.
Third, a focus on democracy will immeasurably strengthen Israel’s hand in the political and propaganda wars in which she is engaged. Israel’s position on campus in North America is tenuous; there are many reasons for this, but one is that value arguments are far more persuasive than security arguments in swaying the young. A strategy that emphasizes both Israel’s commitment to democracy and how she intends to guarantee a democratic future will be an invaluable tool in Israel’s political arsenal.
“Security Jews” are right to make the points that they make, and I have made them frequently myself. But I know, and on some level we all know, that Israel’s security and survival are as dependent on assuring her democratic character as they are on guarding her borders and strengthening her military.