Can you have a Jewish and democratic state?

Page last updated 25 Oct 2015


This issue is broached in “Israeli Society and Politics – What kind of society?”: Jewish and democratic? It inevitably comes into debates about Israel and antisemitism, the nature of Zionism, singling out Israel (“why should the Jews, alone among nations, not have a right to a state of their own?”) – and more. The articles on other pages of this Key Debates section are often directly relevant and there a few more articles dealing directly with the issue below.


1. Israelis have civic rights, not a right to have a Jewish state
Joseph Levine, The Stone/NY Times, JfJfP 13 Mar 2013

“There is an unavoidable conflict between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. I want to emphasize that there’s nothing antisemitic in pointing this out, and it’s time the question was discussed openly on its merits, without the charge of antisemitism hovering in the background.”


2. Values of a Jewish and Democratic State
Jewish Virtual Library, nd.

An interesting discussion showing how the key phrase in the Basic Law “a Jewish and democratic state” has been interpreted differently by various jurists and justices.

For Justice Aharon Barak, the expression “Jewish and democratic” does not imply two opposites, but rather their being complementary and harmonious. Justice Menachem Elon’s interpretation transforms the term “Jewish” into an unimportant, secondary addendum to the term “democratic”, while for Justice Haim Cohn the interpreter must adopt, from within the principles of Jewish tradition, only those principles befitting and appropriate to a democratic society. Justice Elon believes that in any case uncertainty in the interpretation of a legal provision the court should have recourse to Jewish Law as its source of inspiration and interpretation, except where the law in question explicitly contradicts Jewish Law.

The article is undated; it is likely in today’s court that views like those expressed by Justices Elon and Cohn would hold sway.


Contents of this section


a) Setting the scene: the hasbara (propaganda) war
b) Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?

Singling out Israel
Is Israel an apartheid society?
BDS and antisemitism

c) Can you have a Jewish and democratic state?
d) What is Zionism today?

e) The nature of the nakba
f) One state or two?
g) Is Hamas to blame? Is Gaza still occupied?
h) Right of return and law of return
i) The role of the JNF


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