Can Israel's democracy be saved?

Israel cannot control Palestinian land while denying the rights of those living on it. A democratic country is one that knows it can't have its cake and eat it.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague. (photo credit: AP)
The International Criminal Court in The Hague.
(photo credit: AP)
2011 finds Israel safer and wealthier than ever before. During 2010, border casualties were down to a minimum and the per-capita GNP is on par with many European countries. For this reason it saddens me that Israel may soon have to give up the identity it has worked so hard to form during the past six decades.
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Israel is heading towards a critical ideological junction that forces it to choose between its Jewish identity and its democratic nature. At this stage and considering all the extenuating circumstances, the country can no longer keep both titles.
Armed with impressive economic achievements, the current Israeli leadership has already made up its mind: it prefers to stick to the Jewish identity and give up Israel's long term commitment to being a full-fledged democracy. This week a Knesset committee decided to investigate the loyalty of several NGOs. These include organizations whose very existence attests Israel’s democracy.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. The government prefers to keep control over Palestinian land in the West Bank but doing so necessitates giving the people living on it their full human and political rights. Fret not however: under Israel’s current leadership, the Palestinians are unlikely to gain their rights or their land.
It seems we are headed toward a post-democratic Jewish state in which most Jews in Israel will be able to live in financial and physical security. But what about those of us who will not tolerate a non-democratic Israel?
There are many Israelis who cherish their democracy at least as much as their religion. For me personally, as an Israeli-born secular Jew who fought for the country's survival in both military and diplomatic battlefields, democracy is more important than religion. This raises a number of troubling issues. What will the country do with citizens like me after it has surrendered its democracy? And if we choose to object a non-democratic country, where will we find ourselves? Jail perhaps? Are there enough jails in Israel to accommodate us all?
I wish and pray that my beloved country - the only one I ever had - will never reach this point. It will be the end of the Israel that I grew up in and love so much.
So the question remains: Does the state of Israel still have the option to stay both democratic and Jewish? So long as Palestinian land is under full Israeli control, the answer is no.
Six decades of life in Israel have afforded me the ability to understand the current Israeli mentality. The majority of Jews living in Israel today prefer ownership of the West Bank than preserving the democracy. This biblical piece of land existed long before democracy was even thought of, which for many is a very powerful reason to stick to it.
In order to quash the momentum directing us toward this frightening junction, all those who believe in democracy as being at least as important as religion – any religion - should stand up together. Only a united democratic front can force the government to adhere to Israel’s democratic nature.
Alon Liel, a former chargé d’affaires in Turkey and ambassador to South Africa, was director general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000-2001 during Ehud Barak’s term as prime minister. Today he lectures in Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary school in Herzliya.