Israel is not a liberal democracy that supports the flourishing of its citizenry. In fact, it is not a democracy, since democracy requires consent of the governed, and Israel controls, directly and indirectly, millions of Palestinians without their consent on the West Bank and Gaza. It is not a liberal democracy even in what Peter Beinart calls “Democratic Israel”, because it excludes a large percentage of its citizenry, native Palestinians, from the nation that the state represents. And because any government that rests on the votes of those outside the nation is considered, by a great number of Israelis, illegitimate.
I don’t believe Israel is substantively a Jewish state either,at least not with respect to these issues. That is not to say that there are not a great many Jews here; on the contrary, it is a state of the Jews, and there are Jewish institutions, and Jewish folks like other folks, some good, some bad. But it is not a Jewish state in the sense that its founding principles do not embody core Jewish principles, in my opinion. In its treatment of its minorities, its underprivileged groups, its foreigners, it does not reach the level of a decent society, much less a Torah society. The fact that there may be better or worse societies in the world doesn’t affect my view that this society is not, on these questions, a substantively Jewish society
Israel could become substantively democratic if it grants real political power to native Palestinians by ending the occupation; creating the ability for native Palestinians who are not citizens to become citizens, including the Palestinian refugees who wish to return; recognizing Palestinian Israeli citizens as a homeland minority with national and cultural rights; and empowering Palestinian parties by giving them control over ministries and budgets.
This is, of course, a dream. But today we are moving closer to realizing the dream, with the election of a party to the Knesset that will fight for those goals, the Joint List.
There are still many hurdles to face. For years I have been saying pessimistically that even if there were 20 or 30 members of the Knesset that believed in the aforementioned goals, they would be in a permanent opposition, because Israel is considered to be a Jewish state. Even the Joint List has said repeatedly that for ideological reasons it cannot sit in a Zionist government that makes decisions affecting settlements, Palestinians, lands, etc. There is almost a coalition of interests to keep Palestinians out of the government.
And then I read the vision of Ayman Oudeh, the lawyer who heads the Joint List, who says that in ten years there could be an Arab prime minister of Israel, and that empowering Palestinian Israelis will be good for all Israelis.
And I remember the example of the anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox parties, who found creative ways to take care of their underfunded sectors without being full fledged members of the government, until time did its own work, and they began to be members of the government.
How can Israel become substantively Jewish? By becoming a society that attempts to eliminate social injustice. By becoming a desegregated society. By saying to itself, “If we are commanded to love the stranger as ourselves, because we were strangers in the land of Egypt, how much more so are we to take care of ourselves, our citizens, especially those who have suffered through the creation and maintenance of an ethnic exclusivist state!”
Such a state will have its flaws; no state is perfect. But such a state and only such a state will be worthy of the adjective “Jewish”.
One small step was taken today for Israel to become substantively Jewish and democratic – and, also, Palestinian.