Between Judaism and Democracy

The Left’s Claim: Withdrawal for the Sake of Jewish Identity

The main argument the leftist Zionist’s make to justify their parties political position, that Israel must withdraw from Judea and Samaria and establish a Palestinian state, is in order to preserve the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In other words, by withdrawing, a clear Jewish majority will be preserved, and simultaneously, equal rights will be granted to the Arab minority living within the state. But if we continue to control Judea and Samaria, in keeping with democratic values, we must provide equal rights for Arabs living there, and the State of Israel will become bi-national. This, for example, is what the author Amos Oz said prior to the previous elections explaining why he supports the extreme-left ‘Meretz’ party: “I’m all for drafting yeshiva students [into the army], but what good will they do me, if we have an Arab state here? These elections involve an existential question” (‘Haretz’, Jan. 11, 2013).

Is this a Cynical Ploy?

For many right-wing people it is strange to hear a Jewish argument from the leftists. The leftists give the impression of being remote and even alienated from their Jewish heritage, always preferring the popular Western point of view over the national-Jewish legacy, and suddenly, Israel’s national identity is their top priority?! Many people are convinced that this is simply a cynical ploy, originating from the beit midrash of leftist propagandists. They are attempting to play on Jewish sentiments in order to convince us that, in actually, it is in our best interests to betray the Tanach, give up parts of the homeland, turn our backs on morality, and cede territory to our enemy, from which they can fire shells and missiles on Israeli cities with greater ease. Many on the right feel this type of deception is similar to Ehud Barak’s conduct in a previous election, when, in one of his campaign commercials, he cynically used an elderly patient waiting for treatment in a hospital corridor to promote withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.

Wishful Thinking with Nothing in Exchange

In my estimation, most leftists maintain this argument with all honesty. The Jewish identity of the State of Israel really is important to them. All the same, I do not believe them, because every time a real conflict between Jewish values and democracy arises, chances are they will favor the democratic, liberal values. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, used to claim that there is no conflict between Judaism and democracy, because Judaism can always be interpreted as being in agreement with democratic values. According to such an attitude, for 3,000 years we never really understood what Judaism was all about, until the liberal “philosophers” of the West arrived on the scene and taught us. Incidentally, this is also how some of the Hellenists felt about Hellenistic culture.

An Illustrative Example

Here is an illustrative example: Up until the Oslo Accords, an Arab Israeli citizen who married an Arab partner living in Judea and Samaria, usually would not receive permission to bring them into the State of Israel. It was clear to the ministers and bureaucrats that Israel is a Jewish state, and consequently, only Jews could receive citizenship in the country and not members of any other nation.
As a result of the Oslo Accords, policy was changed, and according to data from the Ministry of Justice, from 1994 till 2002 – within eight years – approximately 140,000 Arabs from Judea, Samaria, and Jordan who married Israeli Arabs, received Israeli citizenship. Thus, the entire demographic advantage achieved as a result of the welcome immigration from the Soviet Union, was completely erased.
This phenomenon continued during the Rabin government, the first Netanyahu administration, and that of Ehud Barak.

The Conflict between Jewish Values and Democracy

In this case, a conflict arose between two values: From a democratic point of view, one cannot tell an Arab from Umm al-Fahm in the Galilee, who married a woman from Schem, that he does not have the right to bring her and her children to “his country”. In addition, she cannot be denied her right to receive citizenship of the country where she lives with her husband.
On the other hand, if we want the State of Israel to be the state of the Jewish people, we must avoid granting citizenship to Arabs who marry Israeli citizens; otherwise the State of Israel will quickly become a preferred destination for all Middle Eastern Arabs who want to improve their standard of living. What began with 140,000 Arabs naturalized in eight years, in a short time will grow to be millions, since the living conditions in the State of Israel are infinitely better than all the Arab states.

The Oslo Agreements Breached All Barriers

Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning here that it was the cursed Oslo Agreements which caused the breach of all Jewish and moral barriers in Israeli society. Tensions existed between Jewish values and democracy even before the Oslo Accords, with the left-wing parties and the Supreme Court frequently gnawing-away at the principles of Judaism. But from a national perspective, it was also clear to the Supreme Court that the State of Israel is committed to advancing the interests of the Jewish people.
However, the Rabin administration, a minority government which the majority of the Jewish public was opposed to, and which needed the support of the Arab parties to survive and advance the Oslo Accords, granted the Arabs rights that no other previous Zionist leader had even dared to think of giving. In addition to the rights previously mentioned, the “Oslo government” decided to equate the ‘kitzvat yeladim’ (child benefits) of citizens who did not serve in the army, to those of army veterans. Up until then, an army veteran or a first-degree relative received a double allowance (the vast majority of Haredim also received a double allowance, because they had a first-degree relative who served in the army. As a result of the change in policy, the numbers of Haredim who do not serve in the army has increased).
Also, from a moral perspective, the Oslo Agreements were a disaster. Many people in Israel and throughout the world began feeling admiration, respect, and often love towards men of bloodshed and deceit, the most abominable of terrorists. All terrorist organizations in the world were given a burst of encouragement. To round things out, many leftists became haters of their own people, the settlers, believing all slander hostile to them with absolute trust, while employing the same arguments that the greatest anti-Semites used against the Jews in the past.

The Government’s Re-evaluation

Let’s return to the issue of the conflict between Judaism and democracy. When the Israeli government under Ariel Sharon realized that it must prohibit the flow of immigrants owing to economic and national motives, it faced a problem. No longer could it claim that since the State of Israel is a Jewish state, it is permitted to deny Israeli Arabs the right to raise a family, and live with them here with full rights. True, this was the prevailing opinion amongst the Zionist-left before the Oslo Agreements. But after the erosion that occurred in wake of the Oslo Accords, it was clear that the Supreme Court would reject a law denying this right from Arab citizens, just as it rejected the option of reinstating increased benefits for army veterans.
What did the government do? They employed a less significant argument, stating that such immigration creates a security problem, as it became clear that some of the recipients of Israeli citizenship exploited their citizenship to carry out terrorist attacks. Therefore, as a temporary measure, the government passed a law denying Arabs married to Israeli citizens the right to obtain citizenship. Validity of this temporary order ruling has been extended time and again until the present.

The Supreme Court’s Position

Naturally, leftist groups and Arabs petitioned the Supreme Court to invalidate the law, deeming it contrary to human dignity and freedom. During the years between 2006 and 2012, the Supreme Court debated this issue twice, before an expanded jury of eleven judges, and in both cases, refrained from condemning the law by a single vote. Five judges, including former Chief Justices’ Barak and Beinish, supported banning the law. However, six judges decided the law should not be banned; some of them emphasized their decision was based on the temporary status of the law, which would eventually be eliminated when the security situation improved.
It should be noted that although the law was narrowly approved, the mere fact that the Supreme Court seriously debated its invalidation affected significant changes that led to the granting of citizenship to nearly 1,000 Arabs a year, because legal advisors were of the opinion that without these changes, the law would not pass the “test of the Supreme Court”.
In effect, according to the opinion of the majority of Supreme Court judges, the upshot is that without the argument of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life-endangering situation), the State of Israel should voluntarily relinquish its Jewish majority for the sake of democracy.

Leftist’s Claims Cannot Be Believed

Here, we have a genuine conflict between the vision of a Jewish state, and democracy. Are those who say they wish to withdraw from Judea and Samaria in order to maintain a Jewish majority, willing to openly fight in this matter against the Supreme Court? Even if they answer affirmatively, they cannot be believed. True, most of them want to preserve the identity of the State of Israel, but on every occasion when a conflict arises between the values of Judaism and those of democracy and liberalism, they choose the latter.

Western Worldview vs. Jewish “Folklore”

The reason for this is that in all their years of schooling in the Israeli educational system, the leftists study and probe in-depth all the Western, liberal democratic values, whereas Jewish values are viewed as a nice, grandfatherly folklore, void of any significant content. Thus, whenever there is genuine conflict between democratic values and Judaism, they will choose democracy, and in a gradual process, distance and estrange themselves from their Jewish heritage. To appease their Jewish conscience, they reminisce about stories of affable, smiling rabbis, they cite verses and axioms supporting their liberal outlook, and in this manner, feel they have retained their Jewish identity.
They might attempt to soothe their consciences by supporting the Reform movement. This group, indeed, fits them well, seeing as its main endeavor is to adapt Judaism to fit the values of Western society. But even this will not last, because if the motivation is not to preserve Judaism but rather to find a way to adapt it to Western culture, it is easier to integrate into Western culture, without having to carry the hump of Reform, simulated- Judaism on one’s back.
It appears that the only issue that preserves Jewish identity as a significant consideration for them is the Arab’s war against us. Without this, they would also be in favor l’chatchila of a ‘country of all its citizens’, devoid of any national, Jewish distinction, as the radical-left thinkers have already called for.
With God’s help, I plan to write more about the Torah approach, which views the values of democracy, human and civil rights positively, and how they fit into the genuine Jewish outlook.

This article was translated from Hebrew.

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: