Israel Can be Jewish and a Democracy

Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to persuade world leaders and Israelis that there was no alternative to a “two state solution.” According to Secretary Kerry, keeping the status quo would threaten Israel’s ability to remain a democracy. He stated without reservation that ”Israel could not be both Jewish and a democracy.” Rather, if Israel wanted to remain Jewish and embrace democracy it would have to allow for a Palestinian state.

Secretary Kerry’s should have known better before he articulated his “axiom.” One needs look no further than the United States. The Declaration of Independence, the political manifesto which justified America’s breaking away from being a British colony, states “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”

The United States Constitution, written and signed in 1787, sets forth the fundamental framework of America’s system of government. Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution states that  “[n]o person except a natural born Citizen [of the United States]… shall be eligible to the Office of the President.” Why didn’t Secretary Kerry recognize that the same principles can apply to Israel’s democracy?

One could argue that the Constitutional provisions themselves contain elements that are not “purely” democratic. After all, isn’t the will of the people expressed by a 51% majority? Yet Article 5 of the Constitution sets forth the process for its amendment: a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. Why do we accept the notion that only two-thirds can add a provision to the Constitution? Why not three-quarters? Why not 90%? The “arbitrary” two-thirds requirement helps maintain foundational principals of the United States by requiring a high threshold to overturn its fundamental laws.

Why is Israel not allowed to codify that its leaders be of Jewish faith, in the same way that a US president must be born on American soil? Why can’t Israel safeguard other “Jewish” provisions that would be difficult to overturn, similar to the high threshold to amend the Constitution? Why doesn’t Secretary Kerry recognize the inconsistency in accepting the notion of mankind’s unalienable rights granted by man’s Creator, all the whilst rejecting the notion of Jewish law and its way of life that was granted and transmitted by the World’s Creator. It is truly sad to see Secretary Kerry or any other intelligent person have his judgment so clouded by a political agenda that he denies…. self evident truths

About the Author
Rabbi Zev Friedman is the Rosh Mesivta, Dean Of Rambam Mesivta for Boys and Shalhevet High School for Girls.