A Democratic Jewish State, How and Why

The question of whether Israel can be a democratic Jewish state, a liberal Jewish state, is the most important question with which the country must wrestle, and it can have no answer until we arrive at an understanding of what a Jewish state is. A great deal of pessimism is in the air. Many people attach to the adjective “Jewish” ultra-nationalistic and theocratic meanings, and then make the argument that a Jewish democratic state is a contradiction in terms, an impossibility. On the left and on the right, among the elites and the masses, people are giving up on the idea that both elements, the particular and the universal, may co-exist equally and prominently in the identity of the state. This way of thinking is partly responsible for the recent convulsions in Israeli politics, for the zealotry and the despair that run through it. Yet it is an erroneous and unfruitful way of thinking. It rigs the outcome of this life-and-death discussion with a tendentious and dogmatic conception of Judaism and Jewishness.   There is another way, a better way, to arrive at an answer to this urgent and wrenching question. Let us begin by asking a different one, a hypothetical one. Let us imagine the problem in a place that is not Israel or Palestine. Could a Catalan state, if it were to secede from Spain, be a democratic Catalan state, a liberal Catalan state? Catalan nationalism is a powerful force, and many Catalans wish to establish an independent state of their own with Barcelona as its capital, based on their claim that they constitute a distinct ethnocultural group that deserves the right to self-determination. Though recent developments in Spain have shown that the establishment of an independent Catalan state is far from becoming a reality in the near

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