21. Religious state isn't democracy

Joy Greenhouse and Martin Gallin (March 31 and April 5 letters) take pleasure in using such high-flown language: "Israel is a democracy," "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East." But Israel characterizes itself as a Jewish state. And a Jewish state cannot claim to be a democracy, no more than a Christian or an Islamic state can. Democracy cannot be qualified.

Palestinian Christians and Muslims living within Israel's boundaries have Israeli citizenship but not the Israeli nationality. The two terms are interchangeable in the United States but not in Israel. Citizenship (ezrahut), in Israel, may be held by Christians and Muslims as well as Jews, while nationality (le'um), which bestows significantly greater rights than citizenship, may be claimed by Jews, and Jews alone. As Rabbi Elmer Berger put it: "any Jew in the world has more national rights in Israel than any Arab/Palestinian Israeli citizen."

Israel discriminates also against Americans. To Jewish Americans, Israel will give automatic citizenship, which is denied to all other Americans precisely because they are non-Jews. Regarding such practice, the Congress declared that "any distinction made by a foreign nation between American citizens because of race, color or religion in the granting of, or the exercise of personal or other rights available to American citizens is repugnant to our citizens."

So, is Israel a democracy? By Zionism standards, yes, just as South Africa is a democracy by apartheid standards.

April 17, 1991

For a reply see [22], [27]and [31]