Levine is quite correct, though, that symbolic items like the name of the state, the flag, and the national anthem belong to only one group of citizens. But are these included in the “core democratic principle of equality?” Why should they be?
After all, many states with ethnic or religious symbolism associated with them have been called ‘democratic’ since the word was invented by the ancient Greeks (incidentally, most of the residents of Athens, the paradigm of democracy, weren’t even citizens).
I could argue strongly that only civil rights are essential to democracy, and that “equality” in many senses is not. And Arab citizens of Israel have civil rights, even if they find the national anthem — which they are not required to sing — offensive.
And here we come to the fallacy in Levine’s argument. Can you say petitio principii? No? Then how about “assuming what you purport to prove?”
That is exactly what this Professor of Philosophy has done. He has built the negation of the fundamental idea of an ethnic nation-state — the expression of the beliefs, yearnings and fellow-feeling of an ethnic group in the symbols and moral principles of a state — into his definition of ‘democracy’, and then ‘proves’ that no such state can be democratic, and therefore ought not to exist in that form!
Another way of looking at it is that there is a hidden premise that is not true. In this case, that would be that democracy entails “group political equality” in which every group, whether a majority or minority, has an equal vote on all matters. But the usual idea of democracy is that each individual has a vote, as long as the civil rights of minorities are maintained. This is quite different.
There is another hidden premise, which is that if a state is not completely democratic, it is morally defective. This is also not self-evident; indeed, both Plato and Aristotle thought the opposite.
Many years ago, I had a short career as a college teacher of Philosophy. This is an undergraduate error; Levine should be embarrassed.
But now I have further questions for Professor Levine:
Why did you not write an article about whether Saudi Arabia has a right to exist as a Kingdom, or indeed whether any of the kingdoms, dictatorships, Islamic ‘republics’ or other undemocratic entities have a ‘right to exist’ as such?
Why did you not argue that the Kingdom of Jordan should not exist as such, not only because is it an undemocratic monarchy, but because a minority of Bedouins there rule over a majority of other Arabs? This is especially relevant, because Transjordan was created from the territory called ‘Palestine’, precisely to create an Arab state that would be a counterpart to the Jewish National Home that Britain was supposed to nurse into existence in Western Palestine.
Why do you find the relatively mild discrimination against Arab residents of Israel — especially in the context of the security situation — important when so many other Middle Eastern states with ethnic or religious minorities completely disenfranchise, even viciously oppress them (e.g., the Kurds or the Palestinians in Lebanon)?
You will say that this is because the question of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is much-discussed today, and as a philosopher you are equipped to add clarity to the discussion.
But it is discussed today precisely because those who deny it primarily do so not as an academic exercise, but in the context of a desire to end Jewish sovereignty, to establish insecure borders, and to allow the almost 5 million claimants to ‘Palestinian’ nationality (an absurdity if there ever was one) to enter the territory, which would result in the re-dispersal of the Jewish people and quite probably the deaths of many of them. If this isn’t an antisemitic enterprise, I don’t know what is.
So your focus on Israel among states, your hypersensitivity to its perceived (by you) moral defects, your fallacious attempt to lend support to those who would destroy it, is de facto antisemitic, even if some of your best friends (and relatives) are Jews.
The antisemitic shoe fits. Wear it proudly.
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