Father Judaism and Mother Democracy

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In an op-ed from Haaretz, IDI Senior researcher Yair Sheleg responds to settler leader Benny Katzover’s position that certain democratic principles are incompatible with Jewish law and reflects on the inherent tension between Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature.

Background: In a recent article in Haaretz, settler leader Benny Katzover was cited as saying that Israeli democracy must be dismantled and replaced with a halakhic state, based on Jewish law. In a subsequent AP interview, he argued that democratic principles such as equality before the law have become an obstacle to deepening Jewish control over all of the biblical Land of Israel. In the following op-ed from Haaretz, which was published on January 22, 2012 alongside an op-ed in which Katzover clarified his position on the relative importance of Jewish and democratic values in the State of Israel, IDI Senior researcher Yair Sheleg responds to Katzover’s position and reflects on the inherent tension between Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature. Sheleg argues that a country need not prefer one of the two ends of this spectrum, and that Israeli society should view its Jewish and democratic nature as two manifestations of human dignity. 

"Benny Katzover has done well to clarify, in today's newspaper, remarks that have been attributed to him about giving up democracy. But the clarification improves only the abrasive style that had previously been attributed to him and does nothing to reduce the danger in his statements. 

To summarize his argument: Application of the democratic worldview will compromise the ability to preserve-not to mention advance-the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. Therefore, democracy must be given up in favor of Judaism (or as Katzover puts it, "to prefer something 'Jewish' to something 'democratic,' as long as there is no 'moral' clash between the two"). 

To bring the meaning of his remarks into sharper focus, let us present a few practical questions. Does this mean that Katzover and others like him will support laws that mandate limiting the number of children an Arab woman may have, so as to prevent damage to the demographic balance? And perhaps, at the next stage, Katzover and his cohorts will support killing the babies of Arabs whose families have exceeded the limit (like the biblical Pharaoh, who feared the tilting of the "demographic balance" toward the Jews )? Let us hope not, but such a hypothetical suggestion is exactly what it means to "prefer something 'Jewish' to something 'democratic'," in cases where the two clash....

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Read the full article on the Haaretz website 

Yair Sheleg is a Research Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute who is conducting research as part of IDI's Religion and State project.