Substance and Semantics in the "Ethnic Democracy" Debate
ASTRONOMERS RECENTLY DEALT WITH THE weighty question of whether to
continue classifying Pluto as a "planet" or to redefine it as
a "transNeptunian object." This debate did not involve disagreement
over the actual nature of Pluto itself; all agreed that it was
smaller than the eight other planets, that it was composed mainly of
ice, and that it had an unusual elliptical orbit. The question was
whether to define the concept of "planet" elastically enough to
include such an object, while still excluding numerous other objects
that also orbit the sun. For the astronomers involved, this was
largely arbitrary, since nothing inherent to the term "planet"
(original meaning: "a wanderer") furnished operational guidelines for
Similarly, there is remarkably little disagreement over the actual
substance of Israeli politics in the recent debate over "ethnic
democracy" in the pages of Israel Studies.1 Sammy Smooha classifies
Israel in the historically-rare category of "ethnic democracy"; As'ad
Ghanem, Nadim Rouhana, and Oren Yiftachel challenge the "democracy"
component of that taxonomy and suggest instead the label
of "ethnocracy," a somewhat less rare but still infrequent species;
Ruth Gavison argues for moving the debate into explicit rather than
submerged normative terms, and concludes that there is no necessary
conceptual inconsistency between a state being Jewish and its being a
democracy. All, however, describe the actual situation of non-Jews in
Israel, in law and in practice, in similar terms. In Smooha's
words, "minorities are treated as second-class citizens, feared as a
threat, excluded from the national power structure, and placed under
some control," while "at the same time [they] are allowed to conduct
a democratic and peaceful struggle that yields incremental
improvement in their status."2
The question of whether this disqualifies Israel as a democracy
obviously depends on the definition of democracy that is used. The
term "democracy," like the term "planet," does not have an inherent
and precise delimitation that is fixed for all time and is
intuitively obvious in its application to specific cases. Standard
dictionary definitions, such as "government by the people"
or "majority rule," do not take us very far. Political scientists
must operationalize the concept for it to be useful empirically, and
such definitions will always be arbitrary to some extent. We usually
ask only that the analyst be clear about the definition being used in
order to avoid superfluous debate over semantics-though it is useful
to remember that definitions deviating widely from conventional
usage, no matter how precise, are still likely to invite
Gavison points out that the use of a label loaded with positive and
negative connotations--such as "democracy"--has especially serious
consequences. This is further reason to be as precise as possible in
defining such concepts operationally. Gavison then deals with these
consequences on a political and normative level. I agree that the
normative aspects of this issue should be made explicit, and I find
her discussion of them illuminating. The focus here, however, will
return to what she terms the "scholarly" or "conceptual" level,
dealing with grubby issues of definition and methodology.
Ghanem, Rouhana, and Yiftachel do begin with a clear definition of
We perceive [democracy] as a system of government based on several
key principles: (a) equal and inclusive citizenship and civil rights,
(b) popular sovereignty and universal suffrage; (c) protection of
minorities; and (d) periodic, universal and free elections.3
To this the authors later add a de facto fifth requirement: a
democracy must have clear borders. This is because it must have
a "demos," defined in ancient Greece as "an inclusive body of
empowered citizens within a given territory." This clearly implies,
they argue, clear and permanent borders: "the state should belong to
all its citizens and only to those citizens."4
Ghanem, Rouhana, and Yiftachel have, therefore, supplied us with
fairly precise and measurable criteria for differentiating between
a "democracy" and a "non-democracy." Fair enough. By this definition
it is also clear that they have a very strong case for flunking
Israel. It is difficult to argue (and so far no participant in this
debate has argued) that Palestinian Arabs in Israel enjoy full
equality with Jews either de jure (that is, in terms of
constitutional and legal structures) or de facto.5 As a minority,
they are systematically excluded from important areas of Israeli
life. The lack of clear borders is expressed in the citizenship
extended to Jewish settlers (but not Palestinians) living beyond the
Green Line and in the ambiguous relationship of Israel to Jewish
diasporas around the world. The state of Israel is established
explicitly on an ethnic basis, and, by the above criteria, an ethnic
democracy is, indeed, a contradiction in terms (like "hot ice," as
the authors put it).
Political scientists working empirically on democracy have generally
employed much less unforgiving criteria. Some even challenge the
validity of dealing with political democracy as a dichotomous, either-
or, concept: "I believe that we unnecessarily compromise the concept
of political democracy by considering it a dichotomous phenomenon.
This leads to a crude lumping of countries into the same category
when in reality they have very different degrees of political
democracy."6 And those who have chosen to dichotomize democracies and
non-democracies have proceeded more cautiously.
Dankwart Rustow, in 1967, applied the following four criteria:
1. The free flow of information and the free expression of opinion.
2. The competition of party programs and candidates for electoral
3. The control of the government by elected representatives.
4. Either (a) periodic changes in the composition of the ruling
majority or (b) representation of all major electoral trends within
Application of these criteria to contemporary states led to a list of
31 democracies, Israel being one of them.7
In 1971, Robert Dahl suggested a set of eight requirements for
democracy (which he termed "polyarchy" in order "to maintain the
distinction between democracy as an ideal system and the
institutional arrangements that have come to be regarded as a kind of
imperfect approximation of an ideal"):
1. Freedom to form and join organizations.
2. Freedom of expression.
3. Right to vote.
4. Eligibility for public office.
5. Right of political leaders to compete for support and votes.
6. Alternative sources of information.
7. Free and fair elections.
8. Institutions for making government policies depend on votes and
other expressions of preference.
Consequently Dahl classified 26 states, circa 1969, as "fully
inclusive polyarchies," Israel being one of them.8
G. Bingham Powell established five criteria for democracy in 1982:
1. The legitimacy of the government rests on a claim to represent the
desires of its citizens.
2. The organized arrangement that regulates this bargain of
legitimacy is the competitive political election.
3. Most adults can participate in the electoral process, both as
voters and as candidates for important political office.
4. Citizens' votes are secret and not coerced.
5. Citizens and leaders enjoy basic freedom of speech, press,
assembly, and organization.
Powell concluded that 20 nations had continuous democratic regimes
from 1958 to 1976, Israel being one of them.9
Finally, Arend Lijphart, in 1984 and 1994, using Dahl's criteria,
identified 23 nations that had been continuously democratic since the
immediate post-World II period--Israel being one of them.10
None of these operational definitions, it will be noted, required
equality of rights, non-exclusion of minorities, or clear and
unambiguous borders. All of them also recognized that, in Lijphart's
words, "democratic regimes are characterized not by perfect
responsiveness but by a high degree of it."11 Of course, Ghanem,
Rouhana, and Yiftachel are free to argue that a definition of
democracy ought to include minority rights, and to so define it
themselves. Nominalists such as myself have no problem with that so
long as it is made clear and explicit, and so long as it is applied
consistently to all states. But the authors need to bear in mind that
this usage does differ from that common in political science, which
may force them to remind the reader repeatedly of their higher
standard (or find another label for it). It also differs
significantly, it should be added, from what the person in the street
generally understands by "democracy." One indication of this is a
recent survey of Palestinians in which 75 percent rated the status of
democracy and human rights in Israel as either "Good" or "Very Good,"
against 67 percent for the United States, 55 percent for France, and
32 percent for the Palestinian Authority.12
HOW DIFFERENT IS ISRAEL?
THE NEED FOR COMPARISON
How would other nations rank by the criteria that Ghanem, Rouhana,
and Yiftachel propose? If we all agree that Israel is to be judged as
other countries are judged, a comparative perspective becomes
necessary. Such problems as minority rights in a conflict situation,
security pressures on civil liberties, the role of religion in
politics, and overwhelming pressures on available resources can be
fully evaluated only by comparing the Israeli case to others, similar
and dissimilar.13 The authors explicitly recognize that
democratic/non-democratic governments exist on a continuum and that
there is no perfect democracy, which certainly invites comparison. (I
also understand informally that they are in fact studying
other "ethnocracies," though the subset of cases they find comparable-
-Estonia, Serbia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka--seems very limited.)
The lack of such comparison in the article at hand, however, tends to
create the impression that Israel is being measured against an ideal
standard, making any serious defect grounds for rejecting its
democratic credentials. It is only fair to ask whether other states
pass this test. Can any nation with ethnic problems--meaning most
nations in the world today--pass muster regarding equality and non-
exclusion of minorities in law and in practice? Surely the United
States, with its glaring racial inequities, would have to be
classified as "non-democratic" if this standard is applied
Ghanem, Rouhana, and Yiftachel do provide grounds for differentiating
Israel from "truly" democratic states when they stress the degree to
which Israeli violation of equal rights is anchored in law. While all
or most states may fall short in practice, the authors stress the
formal structures that legitimize this discrimination in Israel: the
Law of Return and other legislation privileging Jews and Jewish
values, quasi-governmental bodies such as the Jewish Agency or the
Jewish National Fund that exclude non-Jews, etc.14 It might be argued
that other democracies enshrine equality and non-exclusion at least
formally, whatever their shortcomings in practice, but that Israel
does not do even this.
Of course, Ghanem, Rouhana, and Yiftachel do not in fact limit their
critique of Israel to formal structures. They mix law and practice
together--and they are perfectly correct in doing so, since both must
be considered. But even putting this aside, there are other problems
with an exclusive focus on formal structures. In the first place, it
is not clear that even by this criteria most presumed democracies are
free of sin. Several years ago, my state legislature decreed that
henceforth the official language of Indiana was to be English;
admittedly this had little if any practical impact, but were I a
native Spanish-speaker I would see this, quite correctly, as an
insult and even as a discriminatory act. It certainly is not an
ethnically- and culturally-neutral law. Many states in the modern
world have adopted policies to "protect" their cultures against alien
influences; are they beyond the pale?
But most importantly, actual practice is surely at least as
important, if not more important, than official structures. Judged by
its official constitution and laws, the Soviet Union under Joseph
Stalin was one of the most democratic polities in human history. An
analysis limited to formal structures would be very uninstructive in
most cases, like a furniture inventory that says nothing about a
family that slouches in its chairs and snores in its beds. An
official apologist for Israel might even conceivably make the
argument that Israel is simply being less hypocritical than other
states by matching its formal structure to what it actually does.15
Looking at both law and practice, any comparison must begin with a
recognition of the general tenuousness of democracy. Democracy is a
relatively recent and still far-from-universal human achievement; by
Lijphart's criteria, there were no democracies at all until the early
twentieth century (because women did not have the vote), and only 23
states have been continuously democratic since the immediate post-
World War II period. All of these are relatively well-developed,
prosperous nations; all but Israel, India, Costa Rica, and Japan are
in Western Europe, North America, or the British Commonwealth.16
Israel often appears in the literature as one of the major case
studies of democracy in a deeply-divided society. Ethnic and
religious cleavages clearly make the achievement of democracy more
difficult; analysts point to a strong correlation between homogeneity
and political democracy.17 Generally, only a handful of states with
deep and numerically significant ethnic divisions have maintained
stable democracies by standard criteria: Switzerland, Belgium,
Canada, arguably India--and Israel. Thus it is not too surprising
that one of the weaker aspects of Israeli democracy is minority
rights. Political scientists consider "consociational" democracy, in
which power is shared among major groups (Switzerland is the classic
example), to be more suitable to deeply-divided societies than simply
majoritarian democracy in which nothing dilutes majority rule. I have
argued that Israeli politics is basically consociational within the
Jewish community, but not in dealing with the Jewish-Arab division.18
Consequently, I would agree with the implicit premise of this debate:
Jewish-Arab relations within Israel are the acid test of Israeli
democracy. Posing this in stark "either-or" terms, however, obscures
the reality that all nation-states must in some fashion balance the
demands of cultural, ethnic, and historical particularity against
universalistic principles. Israel faces the difficulty, in David
Kretzmer's words, of managing the tension between two conceptions of
nationhood: "As a democratic state Israel must serve the needs of all
its citizens; as the state of the Jewish people its function is to
pursue particularistic goals."19 But Israel is hardly the only state
facing this dilemma.
Both Smooha and his critics present Israel as a relatively unusual
case transcending conventional categories, whether as an "ethnic
democracy" (which Smooha opposes to either majoritarian or
consociational democracy) or as an "ethnocracy" (which Ghanem,
Rouhana, and Yiftachel oppose to either democracy or
authoritarianism). But does Israel really represent a third type in
either classification? Is the ethnic element in the Israeli polity so
strong as to constitute a difference in kind, and not just a
difference in degree?
Neither of the two essays clearly addresses the critical issue of the
relationship between an "ethnic" state--democratic or not--and the
basic concept of a "nation-state" as it has been generally understood
and used in political theory (Gavison also notes this "ambiguity
between ethnicity and nationhood").20 In either version, the basic
concept of an ethnic state comes suggestively close to the classic
definition of a nation-state. A "nation" is typically defined as "a
people connected by supposed ties of blood generally manifested by
community of language, religion, and customs, and by a sense of
common interest and interrelation."21 This differs little, if at all,
from most notions of ethnicity. As the idea became prevalent that
every nation had a right of self-determination, the dominant
political model in the world became the nation-state: "A state
organized for the government of a 'nation' whose territory is
determined by national boundaries, and whose law is determined, at
least in part, by national customs and expectations."22
Since ethnic borders seldom correspond perfectly to political
borders, the "national" majority in any given state constitutes a
dominant ethnic group with respect to minorities not identified with
that nationhood, no matter how democratic the procedures. All
nationalisms have a potential problem with minority rights, as Jewish
history demonstrates only too well. Furthermore, a hostile majority
can suppress a minority by democratic as well as non-democratic means
(as democracy is usually defined). The critical question is how far
ethnonational identity is intertwined with the very definition of the
state, and this is a matter of degree.
In theory liberal democracy is indifferent to distinctions among
citizens. But no political system exists in a social, cultural,
linguistic, and historical vacuum; even the most liberal regime is
shaped by its particular context. A nation-state, formed around a
central "nation" however defined, bears some particularistic
features. This imprint will be lighter where the prevailing model of
nationality is assimilative and where it corresponds to the concept
of citizenship. In this "New World" model, state forms nation: there
is a territorial focus, citizenship is extended to those born within
its borders (jus solis ), and naturalization is not tied to
ethnicity, culture, or descent. Such a pattern predominates not only
in New World nations formed by immigration, but also in some states
with natural borders (e. g., islands), in some older states where
borders shaped identity (France, Britain), and in newly emerging
states where "artificial" borders are beginning to shape identity.
Even here, however, a sense of particularity--Americanness,
Japanness, Frenchness--remains and may be a strong political factor.
Clearly this sense is stronger in the "Old World" model where nation
forms state: there is an ethnic focus, with citizenship distinguished
from nationality and often extended on grounds of descent (jus
sanguinis ), while naturalization is more difficult, since it is tied
to ethnicity, culture, or language. This pattern predominates in some
areas with well-defined historical nations (Central and Eastern
Europe, Asia), in newer states formed when the concept of nation-
state was at its peak (post-World War I), and in some situations
where the mismatch between ethnic and political borders is especially
dramatic (Vietnam, Korea, Bangladesh, Yugoslavia).
As a product of the nation-state idea at its most intense, Israel
belongs to the "Old World" model and ranks toward the more ethnic end
of this continuum. It is not, however, in a category by itself; there
are many other states in which ethnicity is likewise closely
intertwined with the definition of the state. Many states, for
example, confer citizenship by descent and/or ethnicity to those who
can establish an ancestral link.23 The Israeli Law of Return is an
unusual case of jus sanguinis in that it recognizes an ancestral link
over two millennia, but other states have similar policies. Germany,
which generally follows the concept of a community of descent, has as
part of its 1949 Basic Law a provision granting the right of "return"
to refugees of German ethnic stock, which led to a massive influx
of "Germans" from Eastern Europe whose ancestral link was measured in
centuries.24 The Soviet Union, following World War II, adopted
similar "laws of return" for persons of Armenian, Russian, Ukrainian,
or Byelorussian national origin who wished to enter the Soviet Union
and receive Soviet citizenship. During the decolonization process,
the imperial powers (Britain, France, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium)
readmitted "nationals" who were generations removed from the home
Does the existence of a broader Arab-Israeli conflict make Israel's
minority issue unique? One of the more curious defenses of de facto
discrimination is the argument that Israeli Arabs, as an ethnic
minority linked to an external threat, represent a unique security
problem. This is not the case: there are Greeks in Turkey and in
Turkish Cyprus as well as Turks in Greek Cyprus; Hindus in Pakistan
and Moslems in India; Tamils in Sri Lanka; Arabs in Iran; Albanians
in Macedonia; Chinese in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia;
Somalis in Ethiopia; and many potentially hostile tribes with cross-
border links in Africa. In the past, the presence of ethnic Japanese
in the United States and Canada, Armenians in Turkey, Germans
throughout Eastern Europe, and various "suspect" ethnic groups in the
Soviet Union, has been a source of concern to the governments
The treatment of these "enemy minorities" has usually been dismal.
The fate of Armenians during World War I, of Japanese in the United
States during World War II, and of German minorities during and after
World War II, testifies to the corrosiveness of wartime suspicions.
In recent decades, the expulsion of suspect minorities has been
commonplace, long before civil strife in the former Yugoslavia
gave "ethnic cleansing" a bad name. It is noteworthy that, among 26
ethnically-divided states rated as democratic (see below), only the
Baltic states parallel Israel in having sizeable minorities linked to
a potentially hostile neighbor. Clearly such links do put minority
groups in a more complicated and vulnerable position.
One useful index related to this pattern is the exclusion of ethnic
minorities from military service; again, Israel is not unique in
selective conscription. Among democratic nations, Britain did not
apply the draft to Ireland in World War I or to Northern Ireland in
World War II, while in Canada the conscription of French Canadians
was a contentious issue in both conflicts. Elsewhere minorities have
been excluded from the armed forces, in whole or in part, in Burma,
Fiji, Guyana, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and a number of
African states.26 Military service often serves minorities as a path
to gaining legitimacy and acceptance, as it has with the Druze
community in Israel.
Israel's link to ethnicity is not unique. But the Law of Return and
other explicitly Jewish features do place it among the more ethnic
nation-states, and thus among the more problematic in terms of ethnic
minorities. How many states actually have significant ethnic
minorities, and how do they fare in democratic terms? In The Jewish
State, I took a tentative stab at this question, admittedly very
rough and incomplete. In 1995 there were, by this count, 71 states in
the world with ethnic minorities, defined by language, of over 5
percent.27 Of these 71 states, 26 (including Israel) were ranked
as "free" on political rights and civil liberties in the annual
Freedom House survey of 1994-1995.28
From Israel's perspective, an important question is how many of these
26 states practice some form of ethnic power-sharing and how many do
not, and whether this is related to the size of minorities. Arend
Lijphart's four basic characteristics of consociational power-sharing
are: 1) participation in the governing coalition or executive; 2) a
high degree of group autonomy; 3) proportionality in representation
and allocation; and, 4) a formal or informal minority veto on matters
of fundamental importance.29 Addressing only ethnic divisions, 11 of
the 26 states (not including Israel) met at least three of these four
There was a clear correlation between power-sharing and the size of
the minority. Only one of the 12 democratic states with linguistic
minorities of less than 20 percent (Finland) used power-sharing
techniques in its ethnic relations, while 10 of the 14 democratic
states with minorities above 20 percent did so. Clearly accommodation
of ethnic groups above this threshold, in a democracy, ordinarily
involves the use of explicit power-sharing techniques that, by their
nature, dilute the prevailing ethnicity of the state. With an Arab
minority of about 19 percent, Israel stands near the fulcrum: close
to the upper limit on the size of minorities that states have
generally been able to incorporate successfully into functioning
majoritarian democracies, and beyond which most have found
consociationalism more applicable. To judge by experience elsewhere,
it would appear that Israel might be able to integrate this minority
without wide use of power-sharing techniques, but that such
techniques are clearly preferable and perhaps even essential.
CONCLUSIONS: ETHNICITY AND POWER-SHARING
Of what, minimally, does the "Jewishness" of the Jewish state
consist? The Israeli Supreme Court, in dealing with the eligibility
of parties to participate in elections, has tried to answer this
question. Acceptance of Israel "as a Jewish state," the court ruled,
means at least (a) maintenance of a Jewish majority, (2) the right of
Jews to immigrate, and (3) ties with Jewish communities outside
Israel.31 None of these features are inherently inconsistent with
democracy as usually defined, and none of them are unique to Israel.
The nation-state, based on the principle of the sovereignty for a
particular ethnonational community, is the prevailing form of
political organization in international relations. Most states,
including most democracies, claim some kind of ethnic component in
their identity, and none exist in a cultural vacuum. A large number
of states grant citizenship on the basis of ethnic identity of
descent. Nor is the existence of a dispersion peculiar to the Jewish
people, save perhaps in duration and extent, and the growth of
sentiment for "normalizing" Israel-Diaspora relations could lessen
any remaining differences (by limiting the Law of Return, reducing
the role of world Jewry in Israel, or even reversing the flow of
influence as Israel becomes the dominant force in the Jewish world).
Israel is a democracy by the usual standards in which power-sharing
techniques have functioned fairly effectively among Jewish groups,
but from which the Palestinian Arab minority has been excluded. Given
the depth of the ethnic division, lessons from experience elsewhere,
and the particular strengths of Israeli politics, the extension of
power-sharing--consociational democracy--to Palestinians within
Israel is clearly the preferred option. Israeli Jews wish to remain
Jewish: that, after all, was the basic idea of Zionism. By the same
token, Israeli Arabs are a non-assimilating minority with their own
culture, language, and identity. Democratic governments--and even
many non-democratic regimes--usually achieve long-term stability in
such cases by power-sharing based on the explicit recognition of two
or more ethnic communities.32
This may require development of an overarching identity, a common
framework that transcends the division into Jew and Arab, to counter
the feeling of Israeli Arabs that they do not belong. Though the name
Israel is decidedly Jewish in origin, Arab citizens have often
expressed interest in expanding the concept, as a territorial label,
to encompass non-Jews as well. This would in essence create the
common civic space that has existed only in theory. Israeli Arab
novelist Anton Shammas has asked for "a new definition of the
word 'Israeli,' so that it will include me as well. . . ." Responding
from a Jewish perspective, A. B. Yehoshua noted that during the First
Temple period "Jewish religious identity was not at all a necessary
element of Israeli identity," and projects a gradual cultural
symbiosis leading to a common Israeli identity.33
Introduction of power-sharing would be eased by the fact that it
already works on the Jewish side. Power-sharing among Jewish groups,
messy and contentious yet effective, already serves as a model of
independent organization, collective bargaining, and direct action
within the framework of law. On the municipal level, a "system of
elite consultations" kept Arab-Jewish peace in Jerusalem over the
decades, providing another model.34
Whether conceived as consociationalism or not, specific proposals for
Jewish-Arab accommodation tend to be similar. Most involve explicit
recognition of Israeli Arabs as a national minority with rights as a
group, such as an act of the Knesset affirming that "the Arab
minority in the State of Israel is an integral part of the Jewish
State and is entitled to full recognition of its specificity within
the framework of law."35 Recognition of Arabs as a minority could
involve making state symbols and practices more inclusive; for
example, by having "Israeli" holidays that draw in both communities.
Secondly, following from such recognition would be group autonomy in
cultural and educational affairs, with the election of a
representative body for that purpose, and possibly the establishment
of an Arab-language university. Functional autonomy in these areas
may be necessary to counter the growth of support for territorial
autonomy or total separation.
Finally, inter-ethnic consociationalism will get a tremendous boost
when Arab parties that accept the framework of a Jewish state are
brought into government coalitions. Nothing else can provide as clear
an index of the extension of Israeli power-sharing to the Arab
community. It is extremely important, as Gavison notes, that
Palestinians participate directly in the decision-making process
themselves, rather than having these issues handled as an internal
debate among Jewish Israelis.
This is in addition, of course, to a fair allocation of resources and
equality before the law. Nothing in the "Jewish" nature of the state
inherently compels discrimination in local government budgets, health
and welfare services, education, economic opportunities, or treatment
in the courts. In fact all of the above measures could be implemented
without renouncing the essential Jewishness of Israel as a nation-
state. What they involve is some dilution of the relationship between
ethnicity and statehood, moving Israel more toward the center of the
spectrum on this dimension. There always remains some sense in which
an ethnic minority "does not fully belong" in a nation-state with a
dominant ethnic group, but Israel would become more of a "normal"
nation-state with "normal" minority problems.
A majority in both communities--roughly two-thirds, in fact--endorse
the continuation of Israel as a Jewish state, with full recognition
of Arab rights as a national minority as a workable solution.36 This
assumes, of course, the continuation of the process of delinking the
Israeli Arab situation from developments in the West Bank and Gaza.
For Arabs within Israel, the sense that the basic conflict was being
resolved would free them to focus further on their own problems and
demands. Resolution of broader Arab-Israel issues could conceivably
intensify their struggle in the sense that they could no longer be
put off by security arguments. But on the whole, peace and stability
on the international level should reduce tensions within Israel,
remove legitimate security issues, help expand civil rights, and make
Israelis more willing to accept independent Arab organizations and
Arab control of their own education and internal affairs. In such a
setting Arabs could also perform military service, or another form of
national service, as a path to integration and equality.
Reading in the other direction, this implies that there is no real
solution to ethnic relations within Israel as long as the larger
problem impinges. The future of Israeli democracy is inextricably
linked to continued moderation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to
the fate of the larger Arab population in the territories beyond the
1. Sammy Smooha, "Ethnic Democracy: Israel as an Archetype," Israel
Studies, 2 (Fall 1997) 198-241; As'ad Ghanem, Nadim Rouhana, and Oren
Yiftachel, "Questioning 'Ethnic Democracy': A Response to Sammy
Smooha," Israel Studies, 3(2) (1998) 253-67; Ruth Gavison, "Jewish
and Democratic? A Rejoinder to the 'Ethnic Democracy' Debate," Israel
Studies, 4(1) (1999) 44-72.
2. Smooha, "Ethnic Democracy," 200.
3. Ghanem, Rouhana, and Yiftachel, "Questioning 'Ethnic Democracy',"
4. Ibid., 261. Emphasis in the original.
5. On de jure discrimination against non-Jews, see David Kretzmer,
The Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel (Boulder, CO, 1990) 17-22.
6. Kenneth A. Bollen, "Political Democracy: Conceptual and
Measurement Traps," in Alex Inkeles (ed), On Measuring Democracy: Its
Consequences and Concomitants (New Brunswick, NJ, 1991) 9-10.
7. Dankwart Rustow, A World of Nations: Problems of Political
Modernization (Washington, DC, 1967) 94, 290.
8. Robert Dahl, Polyarchy, Participation, and Observation (New Haven,
CT, 1971) 3, 9, 248.
9. G. Bingham Powell, Contemporary Democracies: Participation,
Stability, and Violence (Cambridge, MA, 1982) 3, 5.
10. Arend Lijphart, Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and
Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries (New Haven, CT, 1984) 2,
38; Lijphart, "Democracies: Forms, Performance, and Constitutional
Engineering," European Journal of Political Research, 25 (January,
11. Lijphart, Democracies, 2.
12. Center for Palestine Research and Studies, survey of 7-9 January
13. The case for a comparative perspective is made convincingly by
Benyamin Neuberger, "Israel's Democracy and Comparative Politics,"
Jewish Political Studies Review, 1 (Fall, 1989) 67-75, and in Michael
N. Barnett (ed), Israel in Comparative Perspective: Challenging the
Conventional Wisdom (Albany, NY, 1996).
14. See note 5, above.
15. Does any country other than Israel tie itself in knots by
attempting to legislate "permissible" torture, rather than simply
denying that such practices are officially tolerated?
16. See note 10, above.
17. Dahl, Polyarchy, 106-21. See also the study by Pierre Van den
Berghe, "Pluralism and the Polity: A Theoretical Exploration," in Leo
Kuper and M. G. Smith (eds), Pluralism in Africa (Berkeley, CA, 1969)
18. Alan Dowty, The Jewish State: A Century Later (Berkeley, CA,
19. Kretzmer, Legal Status, 176.
20. Gavison, "Jewish and Democratic?", 52.
21. Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of Nationalism (New York, 1990) 230.
22. Roger Scruton, A Dictionary of Political Thought, 2nd edition
(New York, 1982) 313.
23. This includes some states that also recognize jus solis; a
partial list would include Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France,
Germany, Hungary, Liberia, Poland, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and the
United Kingdom as well as the Soviet Union and most Soviet successor
states. Ruth Donner, The Regulation of Nationality in International
Law, 2nd edition (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY, 1994) 32, 69, 114-19;
United Nations Legal Department, Laws Concerning Nationalities
(United Nations ST/LEG/ser.B/4, 1954) 222-4, 386-7. The Israeli Law
of Return can also be defended as a policy of selective immigration,
rather than as extension of a particular conception of citizenship;
since all states practice selective immigration, the question then
becomes the legitimacy of selection on ethnic grounds, and again
Israel is not unique in this regard.
24. Claude Klein, Israel as a Nation-State and the Problem of the
Arab Minority: In Search of a Status (Tel-Aviv, 1987) 4; United
Nations Legal Department, Supplement to the Volume on Laws Concerning
Nationality (United Nations ST/LEG/ser.B/9, 1959) 118; William Rogers
Brubaker, "Immigration, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in France
and Germany: A Comparative Historical Analysis," International
Sociology, 5 (December, 1990) 386-7, 396, 400; Manfred Steger and F.
Peter Wagner, "Political Asylum, Immigration, and Citizenship in the
Federal Republic of Germany," New Political Science 24-25 (Spring,
1993) 65, 67.
25. United Nations, Laws Concerning Nationalities, 466.
26. Cynthia Enloe, Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided
Societies (Athens, GA, 1980) 54-63, 78-82, 136, 182-3, 189-90.
27. Based on the data in Maps 'n Facts (Broderbund Software, 1994);
closely-related languages were grouped together and microstates were
eliminated. For more information see Dowty, The Jewish State, 210-12.
28. Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and
Civil Liberties 1994-1995 (New York, 1995) 683-4.
29. Lijphart, "The Power-Sharing Approach," in Joseph V. Montville
(ed) Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington,
MA, 1990) 494-5, 503.
30. The 11 states were Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Canada, Finland,
Guyana, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa, Spain, and Switzerland.
31. E.A. (Election Appeal) 2/88 Ben Shalom v. Chairman of Central
Elections Committee Piskei Din, 43(2) (1988) 221.
32. This argument is developed by Oren Yiftachel, "The Concept
of 'Ethnic Democracy' and its Applicability to the Case of Israel,"
Ethnic and Racial Studies, 15 (January, 1992) 125-36.
33. The exchange between Shammas and Yehoshua is in David Grossman's,
Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel (New
York, 1993) 257, 270-1.
34. Alex Weingrod, "Shadow Games: Ethnic Conflict and Political
Exchange in Israel," Regional Politics and Policy, 3 (Spring, 1993)
35. Klein, Israel as a Nation-State, 24; see also Sammy
Smooha, "Class, Ethnic, and National Cleavages and Democracy in
Israel," in Ehud Sprinzak and Larry Diamond (eds), Israeli Democracy
Under Stress (New York, 1993) 325-6.
36. Sammy Smooha, Ethnic Democracy, 231-2; Hanna Levinsohn, Elihu
Katz, and Majid Al Haj, Jews and Arabs in Israel: Common Values and
Reciprocal Images (Jerusalem, 1995) 23.
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