Israel’s definition as a Jewish and democratic state is a contradiction that
cannot be solved, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday in a speech that cut
deep into the fundamental problems facing the country’s minorities.
unsolvable problem is that Israel is defined... both by law and by a decisive
majority of its residents, as a Jewish democratic state,” he said at the Prime
Minister’s Conference on Arabs in the economy at Tel Aviv
“Judaism is a whole line of values that have existed for
thousands of years, but the democratic idea is a new idea, and significant parts
of it stand in contradiction to Judaism,” he said.
Israel gave up the
kings and prophets of Judaism in favor of a democratic vote, he continued, while
practices such as slavery and animal sacrifice have long since gone out of
“The meaning of democracy is equality before the law.
can Israel say that everyone is equal before the law – that you’re equal before
the law – when the law defines Judaism as the cultural, national and legislative
basis for the state?” he asked the Arab participants at the
Though Israel boasts judges and parliamentarians from the
Arab sector, minorities are not fully integrated, he pointed out.
pretend that if there’s a successful Arab soccer player, then we don’t have a
problem. But we have a problem.”
Despite the fundamental tensions, he
said, the idea upon which Israel was founded – giving Jews a homeland and
control of their own destiny – requires it to remain a Jewish democracy. The
state would do best to focus on fixable problems for minorities, improving the
system in small ways, he argued. The solutions to some of the problems facing
the country’s Arabs include establishing and strengthening local police forces
to rein in crime, integrating women into the labor force, and “education,
education, education,” he said.
Despite its unpopularity in the Arab
sector, national service would allow Israeli Arabs to increase services in their
communities and reap the same benefits awarded to those who serve in the
military, he went on. The state has devoted NIS 4 billion through 2016 to the
Arab population, and also plans on improving daycare and housing and boosting
“It’s not enough, and it won’t be enough, and it won’t
solve a problem without a solution, but it can open a dialogue,” he said,
striking an “Obama-esque” tone on the touchy issue.
Given the history of
the Jewish people, he added, Israelis should be particularly sensitive to
problems facing its non-Jewish minorities.
“We have a moral obligation we
must pay heed to every day, and we don’t enough: to always remember what it is
to be a minority, to be neglected, to feel alien in the land you were born in.”