“Israeli Democracy and the Rights of Its Palestinian Citizens”, Raphael Cohen-Almagor – Academia.edu


“” By Raphael Cohen-Almagor

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Abstract: The litmus test for assessing the democratization of any given society is the status of its minorities. The more minorities are integrated into society and receive equal treatment, respect and concern, the more light that society would shed unto other nations,serving as an inspiring model to follow. Presently Israel is severely criticized by foes and friends for its treatment of its Palestinians citizens. This criticism is warranted. This paper shows that Israeli leaders consistently refrain from implementing comprehensive egalitarian policies. It is argued that Israel should strive to accommodate the interests of the Palestinian citizens and grant them equal citizenship rights

1. Introduction
On the eve of 2015, the Israeli population was 8,296,000. The Palestinians comprise 20.7 percent of the Israeli population (1,709,900). Many of them have family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The majority of them, some 80 percent are Muslims. The Christian Palestinians, the Druze and the Bedouin are all small minorities within the Palestinian minority 

Most of the Arabs reside in the Galilee in north Israel. Smaller numbers live in the so-called Triangle area at the centre of Israel and in the Negev desert in the south(mostly Bedouins).Between 1948 and 1966, Israeli-Arabs lived under military rule. Theirrights and liberties were severely limited; they were regarded with suspicion as asecurity threat. With the abolishing of the military rule in 1966, the Israeli-Arabsbegan their integration into society as citizens with equal claims to those of theJewish majority. The relationships between the Jewish majority and the Arabminority remain far from ideal. In 2007, 66 percent of the Arabs characterized their relationships with Jews as «not good», and 80 percent thought they were discriminated against.


The litmus test for measuring the extent of democratization of any given society is the status of minorities. The more egalitarian the society, the more democratic it is. In this respect, Israel is struggling. Egalitarianism is still in the making, something that Israel should aspire to achieve. Israel has struggled between liberalism and promoting its religion as a Jewish state. Israeli leaders have given precedence to Judaism over liberalism. While sometimes their language uttered liberal values, their actions were ethnocentric in essence, preferring on e religion and one nation over others. If words are to be meaningful, they mustbe translated into deeds.

This paper opens with quotes of several Israeli leaders – from Ben-Gurion onwards – supporting the principles of liberal democracy. It focuses on Israeli egalitarian statements and symbols. However, repeated studies have shown that on the ground these leaders all implemented policies that were not liberal.There is a striking gap between declarations and  practices – a gap that is by no means unique to Israel. Why is the liberal imagination so important for those who do not abide by it? The majority of Israeli-Palestinians do not feel that they are fully integrated into Israel because it is a Jewish state, and due to continued discrimination in many spheres of life. Democracy is supposed to allow each and every individual the opportunity to follow her conception of the good without coercion. Israel today gives precedence to Judaism over liberalism. I submit the reverse should be the case.

2. Declarations, Language and Symbols


3. Reality
Israel is a Jewish democracy. The framework of governance is democratic, but its underpinning concepts give precedence to Judaism over fundamental democratic rights. Consequently, Israel adopts illiberal policies and practices thatare discriminatory in nature, preferring Jews over others. After the Holocaust,the goal was to found a safe haven for Jews all over the world so as to avoid the possibility of another horrific experience of that nature. Indeed, the United Nations acknowledged the need of establishing a Jewish state. This creation,however, based on a  specific conception of the good – Judaism – discriminates against the Israeli Palestinians.
The majority of Israeli-Palestinians do not feel that they are fully integrated into Israel because it is a Jewish state, and due to continued discrimination in many spheres of life. According to the 2012 Democracy Index, 27.7 percent of the Israeli-Palestinians greatly feel a sense of belonging to the State of Israel, while 38.2 percent feel somewhat a sense of belonging and 33.5 percent hardly feel this way.

An important distinction has to be made between formal citizenship and full citizenship. Israeli Jews can be said to enjoy full citizenship: they enjoy equal respect as  individuals, and they are entitled to equal treatment by law and in its administration. The situation is different with regard to the Israeli-Palestinians, the Bedouin and the Druze. Although they are formally considered to enjoy liberties equally with the Jewish community, in practice they do not share and enjoy the same rights and liberties. Thus, Sammy Smooha calls Israel «ethnic democracy»,arguing that unlike Western liberal democracies, Israel is an ethnic democracy in which the Jews appropriate the state and make it a tool for advancing their own national security, demography, public space, culture and interests. In a more radical fashion, Oren Yiftachel argues that ethnic relations between Jews and Palestinians, and among ethno-classes within these two nations have been shaped by the diverse aspects of the Judaization project and by resistance to that dynamic. Yiftachel goes further than Smooha in explicitly speaking of Jewish «creeping apartheid» whereby increasingly impregnable ethnic, geographic,and economic barriers are introduced in Israel in order to monopolize power and resources


 4. Conclusions

Because Israel is a relatively  young democracy, it lacks experience in dealing with pitfalls involved in the working of the system. Like every young phenomenon, Israeli democracy needs to develop gradually, with great caution and care, and with ample attention to providing  equal rights to all citizens without any discriminatory qualifications and without putting one religion over and above the others.

Democracy is supposed to allow each and every individual the opportunity to follow her conception of the good without coercion. Israel today gives precedence to Judaism over liberalism. I submit the reverse should be thecase. Israel, being the only Jewish state in the world, should strive to retain its Jewish character. The symbols should remain Jewish with some accommodations in order to make the state a home for its Palestinian citizens as well. Shabbat should remain the official day of rest. Palestinian villages and towns may make Friday their day of rest. Hopefully, one day, when security considerations would become less dominant and pressing, and the Israeli economy could afford twodays of rest, as is the case in many parts of the world, then Friday and Shabbat will become the two official days of rest for each and every Israeli citizen.

Presently, discrimination against Israeli-Palestinians is prevalent in many spheres of life, including land allocation, housing, municipality budgets,employment, education, urban development and basic civil rights. Thus the Israeli-Palestinians are put in a precarious position. As long as this is the case,Israel will be criticized. It won’t be considered «light unto the nations».

There is unhealthy discrepancy between speech and conduct; the official statements are not backed by appropriate matching deeds. Arabic is an official language but it does not possess the same importance as Hebrew. The Declaration of Independence is a remarkable document but in reality there is no equality between Jews and Palestinians; the latter do not enjoy the same rights and liberties. The symbols of the Jewish state ignore its minorities.

Democratic governments have to play the role of umpires both in the sense of applying just considerations when reviewing different conceptions and in trying to reconcile conflicting interests, trends, and claims. This delicate task demands integrity as well as impartiality. Governments should not exploit their role for their own advantage, and when  making decisions they have to bear in mind the relevant considerations and demands which concern society as a whole, not only one or some fractions of it. It is incumbent on the Israeli government to ascertain that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection  of the law. All citizens are entitled to equal protection against any form of discrimination,  be it on grounds of religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender or race, and against any incitement to such discrimination.

The last government (2013-2015), headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, prioritized the Jewish character of the state over its  democratic character in an explicit, blunt way. Time and again, law proposals were tabled in a way that was discriminatory against Arabs: a law proposal to prefer former IDF soldiers for jobs in the public sector. These law proposals do not contribute to building Palestinian trust in Israeli politicians and do not increase the sense of  belonging and comradeship of the Palestinian citizens to the State of Israel. Quite the opposite.

In his comments on a draft of this paper, Moshe Lissak notes that Israeli society was never liberal and the situation is becoming  worse. Lissak  doubts whether the extent of liberalism in Israeli society will improve. But this does not mean that liberal elements within Israeli society should simply surrender.They should continue to fight for securing the same basic rights to  majority and minorities alike. The constant challenge for Israel is to secure  basic human rights for all, the powerful as well as the powerless, for Moslems, Christians and Jews.Israel needs  to develop a comprehensive liberal theory of minority  rights. It must  explicitly address the needs and aspirations of its Palestinian  minority. It should invest in cultivating tolerance. The key for understanding  the other is education,making that is foreign familiar, making that is remote closer. Indeed, pluralism can be enriching rather than intimidating. Israel should erect bridges and remove obstacles to the understanding of the other through mechanisms  of  awareness,of recognition and of legitimacy. Continued dialogue and exchange of ideas will be instrumental in contesting boundaries by peaceful means, and in reaching  fruitful compromises without resorting to discrimination, coercion and abuse.


Really worth reading in its entirety: “Israeli Democracy and the Rights of Its Palestinian Citizens”, Ragion Pratica, Vol. 45 (December 2015), pp. 351-368. | Raphael Cohen-almagor – Academia.edu

Text of Israel Declaration of Independence, states (my empasis) :
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their
dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
As of 2016, if fails on ALL the emphasized elements of ONE article of its “solemn promise to the World” … #APARTHEID #israel also never fulfilled the UN mandated requirement to produce a Constitution in the 5 years after its acceptance in the UN in 1949, while this Declaration even promised a Constitution by October 1948!  They never produced one because Jewish Israelis were NEVER ABLE to agree on what is the definition of a “Jewish State” but they do want Palestinians of Israel, Palestine and the Diaspora to agree to accpet what they were never able to define and is nevertheless upheld by their High Court of Justice, i.e. the “Jewish Character” of #APARTHEID #israel … 

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