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A Jewish Democracy in Eretz Israel, without Panic and Outside the Box

The "Community Democracy" model meets all the criteria of the liberal democratic outlook, but it is based on the Jewish heritage and the Torah.

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Jews and Arabs ride the Jerusalem Light Train together. It is time to abandon the traditional doctrines of territorial annexation vs. expulsion of Jews, in favor of a plan that would include Jews and Arabs living in a Jewish democracy.

Jews and Arabs ride the Jerusalem Light Train together. It is time to abandon the traditional doctrines of territorial annexation vs. expulsion of Jews, in favor of a plan that would include Jews and Arabs living in a Jewish democracy.
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90

In his article “Think About Annexation Without Panic” (Makor Rishon print edition, June 7, 2013), pundit Uri Elitzur urges the public to discuss the pros and cons of three options: the two-state solution, annexation of Judea and Samaria, and leaving the existing situation as it is.

In most of the comments that followed the article, we saw again a discussion that goes around in circles, like a puppy chasing its own tail. Many people repeat the same mistaken assumptions and get stuck in the inevitable logical dead ends. It seems that getting rid of the panic is not enough. Thinking outside the box is needed, too.

As long as Israel’s constitutional system remains as greatly centralized as it is, there is no chance of solving the problem:

If a Palestinian state is established in Judea and Samaria through yet another ethnic cleansing operation against the Jews, like the Gush Katif 2005 expulsion—it will amount to another crime against humanity and create a security nightmare for every inch of Israel, as it did in Gaza.

If Israel decides to annex Judea and Samaria without giving its Arabs full rights—it will indeed bring on the nightmare of an apartheid state.

If Israel annexes Judea and Samaria but gives Arabs the vote—it will be an invitation to a demographic, hostile takeover.

None of the above three options can secure Israel’s future as a Jewish-democratic state – unless a radical structural reform is introduced.

We seem to be completely fixated on the false idea that a Jewish state can only exist if there is a Jewish majority in the country. The demographic mantra is repeated by all sides, as if democracy has only one pattern and any other model is fascistic and racist. But the truth is that there are many variations on the democratic principle, and not all of them are majoritarian like Israel’s system.

This was understood since the 1920s by great Zionist leaders, like Ze’ev Jabotinsky on the right and Shlomo Kaplansky on the left, so it would be preposterous to suggest that annexation and constitutional reform would mark “the end of Zionism.” Throughout Zionist history, many creative solutions have been proposed, like a federal state, a confederation, a condominium, cantonization, dual sovereignty without contiguous territories, and communal federalism. They all have in common two principles: the decentralization of governmental power and the separation between communal identities and the national self-determination of the Jewish people in the State of Israel.

The model that I propose, “Community Democracy,” meets all the criteria of the liberal democratic outlook, and is based on our Jewish heritage and the Torah. It can solve many of our other problems as well, incidentally, not only our conflict with the Arabs.

Centralized regimes are based on foundations that absolutely contradict the original Jewish system of government. Indeed, many Israelis tend to think that national patriotism must be expressed through uniformity and centralism, but, in fact, these outdated notions damage our society, weaken our national solidarity and harm our relations with other nations.

Instead of calculating how many Arabs may be elected to the current proportional Knesset, let us imagine a bicameral parliament. On top of the existing Knesset, we can add an upper chamber with representatives of autonomous communities.

Like the U.S. Senate, the upper chamber will not have to reflect the numerical proportions of various segments of society. Its task will be to protect the national identity of the Jewish State and secure the civil rights of all the state’s communities.

Israel will turn into a federal state that unites voluntary communities, each managing its affairs according to its own sets of values and aspirations. In addition, the head of the federal executive branch (a president or a prime minister who will not need a parliamentary coalition to rule) will be directly elected by all the citizens.

This is most likely to create a system that provides more civil liberties for its citizens, a more stable federal government and a more secure national character for the Jewish State.

The federal model is probably the most successful form of democracy in our times, and, at the same time, it is the closest to the classical Jewish form of governance throughout our history. Both the Jewish identity of the state and the federal system of government must be part of a constitution that will be extremely hard to change.

Although Arab politicians in Israel are likely to express loud opposition to this plan, the majority of Arabs are most likely to prefer “a blue certificate” (an Israeli ID card) with a guaranteed freedom to enjoy self rule in their communities, and would give up fulfilling some “national aspirations” under a corrupt dictatorship or a terrorist, Islamist caliphate.

At first glance, the “Community Democracy” may seem like a fantasy. But it may well prove to be much more practical, since it is deeply rooted in the social, cultural, ethnic, religious, economic, strategic and historical reality of both Israel and the region. All we need to do is open our minds and think outside the box.

Ehud Tokatly

About the Author: Ehud Tokatly is an Israeli writer, editor, translator, media expert, educator, software & Internet developer and entrepreneur. His father's family has lived in Jerusalem for seven generations. His mother escaped from Germany just before the holocaust. Following his military service, he studied theater at Tel Aviv University, and film & television in Harrow College of Higher Education, as well as Judaic studies at the Dvar Yerushalayim Yeshiva, in London. He has written more than 100 screenplays for productions in Israel and abroad. His 1988 children's book "The Lost Children of Tarshish" (with co-writers S. and J. Klitsner) was published in Israel, the US and Russia. In the 1990's, he co-founded MovieStar Systems Ltd. -- a start-up company that developed software tools for the media production industry. In 2002, he published a modern adaptation of Herzl's famous utopia - "Altneuland." He lives in Jerusalem with his wife.

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