Since most diaspora Jews live in liberal democracies, it is little surprise that they attach importance to Israel’s credentials as a democracy. But what would happen if Israel were seen to move away from its democratic foundations?
The result would be growing distance between Israel and much of the Jewish world, according to a new report. The report was written by the Jerusalem-based think tank, the Jewish People Policy Institute, and commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Justice, which is looking at whether Israel’s character as a “Jewish and democratic state” needs greater constitutional definition. The JPPI took soundings from a series of seminars in Jewish communities, including a London event.
Most Jews, according to the JPPI, are happy with the “Jewish and democratic” formula, even they though may differ over quite what it means. “If Israel is not a liberal democracy, its attractiveness to many diaspora Jews will erode,” the report concludes.
Diaspora Jews already show “growing assertiveness” in voicing criticism of Israel and one aspect troubles them in particular: the relationship between state and religion. “Jews in communities all around the world seem to agree that Israel’s Orthodox monopoly is not compatible with it being Jewish and democratic,” says the report.
Their concerns stretch to other areas, too. Since diaspora Jews are minorities in their own countries, they are sensitive to the treatment of other minorities in Israeli society. Many do not believe Israeli Arabs enjoy full equality and they are worried about Israeli rule over the West Bank.
But there is no great desire to change the national, Jewish symbols of Israel or the words of its national anthem, the Hatikvah, which refers to “the soul of a Jew” yearning for Zion, even though they can appreciate it might be hard for non-Jewish Israelis to sing it.
Nor do most believe that the Law of Return is in conflict with Israel democracy.
The report, ‘Jewish and Democratic: Perspectives from World Jewry’ is at jppi.org.il