Lapid: Israel's definition as Jewish and democratic is an unsolvable contradiction

Finance Minister says minorities in Israel not fully integrated; touts national service as way to benefit Arab communities.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
“The 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 University.
“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 favor.
“The meaning of democracy is equality before the law.
How 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 conference.
Though Israel boasts judges and parliamentarians from the Arab sector, minorities are not fully integrated, he pointed out.
“We all 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 local authorities.
“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.”