When I lived in New York in the 80’s, there were three lies that characterized the city (or so it was said): “the check is in the mail”, “Black is beautiful”, and a third one that is not fit to print here.

Israel, from the very beginning, has had its own Big Lie:

“Israel is A Jewish and Democratic State”.

It is used when politicians want to show how great we are. It is used when politicians want to scare us that we may lose it, and both left and right take pride in preserving and nurturing this falsehood. Not that they really believe in it (or care for that matter). The more intelligent among our politicians (don’t ask me to name those…….) are very well aware that being both democratic and religious, (as a State) is mutually exclusive.

Religion implies superiority and inclusivity and also absolute truth and absolute authority and each religion will exclude any other religion and often even will attempt to exclude other thoughts within the religion. The schisms in the Catholic Church in the 16nd century and the wars against Reform Judaism in Israel of our times are just two examples of this.

The only way to assure that all members of the population will be treated equal and enjoy basic human rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and a law that promises this equality and these rights, is Democracy.

To quote George Levine1, from his excellent book, “The Joy of Secularism”: “The moral and spiritual authority that religion inevitably claims, must imply universality, and this has to mean in all consistency that each religion must demand moral and spiritual control over lay society as well”.

Thus, according to Levine, “A true Democratic State must be secular, whatever any individual inside the State believes”.

This last statement is the key to the success of democratic states such as France and the United States, where people are to a large extend religious, but where the State is the ultimate power.

The State will allow “Freedom of Religion”, i.e. a person may believe anything he wants, accept authority over his actions and beliefs from whoever he chooses, and restrict himself in whatever way he decides, as long as it does not interfere with the lives of others who may believe differently or crosses lines set by the law of the land, which is designed to protect all.

In this way the Jews in Brooklyn may close streets in their neighborhoods on the Sabbath, but not the thoroughfares passing through or next to these neighborhoods or the subways passing below them, in Holland you are married (with all its benefits) only after you went through the civil ceremony (and this while nobody will interfere if you decide to marry in a Christian, Jewish or Buddhist ceremony afterwards).

In Israel, while we talk about the “Status Quo” (A fundamental error for which we have Ben Gurion to thank), with the increasing power of the religious parties (and with that the increasing kowtowing to these parties by others), Jewish values, Jewish rules and Jewish restrictions are more and more implemented and forced upon the daily lives of all citizens, through laws, decrees and controls, even if some of these citizens (Jewish and not Jewish) are not interested or are against these limitations.

Judaism through the ages has been a beacon and an anchor for Jews the world over, and Jewish values are embedded in, and some will say are the basis of, Christianity and the importance of these values is not in dispute. The problem begins when these values (and the restrictions coming with them), are enforced on people (Jews and non-Jews alike) who may think differently or even interpret these values differently.

And this is where democracy steps in. Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. While Churchill may or may not have said this, quoted someone else or came up with it himself, is an interesting footnote, but the core of the remark still stands strong: Only Democracy has the potential to assure equal rights and duties for all and equality before the (Democratic)  law. 

In a truly democratic Israel there would be no discussion on army service for Haredi boys and girls, no restrictions on public transportation on Saturdays, or separate education systems for religious and non-religious children.

Until we will have politicians that are intelligent enough to recognize this, or courageous enough to say it out loud, the situation will deteriorate further, slowly but surely and maybe looking at countries like Italy in the past, when popes where in control, or Iran of today, would provide insight into what may happen also here.

1 The Joy of Secularism, Edited by George Levine; Princeton University Press, 2011  

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