Can we save our democracy?

Israel is headed toward a critical ideological junction that will force it to choose between its Jewish identity and its democratic nature.

avigdor lieberman 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
avigdor lieberman 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
This year finds Israel safer and wealthier than ever. During 2010, border casualties were down to a minimum and the per capita GNP is on par with many southern European countries. For this reason it saddens me that the country may soon have to give up the identity it has worked so hard to shape over the past six decades. Israel is headed toward a critical ideological junction that will force it to choose between its Jewish identity and its democratic nature. At this stage, and considering the extenuating circumstances, it can no longer keep both titles.
Armed with impressive economic achievements, the current leadership has already made up its mind; it prefers to stick to the Jewish identity and give up the commitment to being a full-fledged democracy. Last week, a Knesset motion was passed to establish a committee that would investigate the loyalty of several NGOs. These include organizations whose very existence attests to the country’s democracy.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. The government prefers to keep control of Palestinian land in the West Bank, but doing so necessitates giving the people living on it full human and political rights. But fret not: Under our 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 will be able to live in financial and physical security. But what of those of us who will not tolerate a non-democratic country?
There are many who cherish their democracy at least as much as their religion. As an Israeli-born secular Jew who fought for the country’s survival on both military and diplomatic battlefields, I believe that 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 to a non-democratic country, where will we find ourselves? In jail perhaps? Are there enough cells to accommodate us all?
I pray that my beloved country – the only one I ever had – will never reach this point. It will be the end of the Israel I grew up in and love so much.
So the question remains: Can the state still remain both democratic and Jewish? The answer is, not as long as Palestinian land is under Israeli control.
Six decades of life here have afforded me the ability to understand the Israeli mentality. The majority of Jews living here today prefer ownership of the West Bank to ownership of 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.
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 together. Only a united and democratic front can force governments to stay within the lines of Israel’s democratic nature.
The writer, a former chargé d’affaires in Turkey and ambassador to South Africa, was director-general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000 and 2001. Today he lectures at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.