Prominent Jewish groups and individuals are reacting strongly to a Democratic congressional candidate in New York who said that “Israel is not a democracy.”

Antonio Delgado, who is running against Republican Rep. John Faso in New York’s 19th Congressional District, made the remark during a debate on Monday.

“Being pro-Israel and being pro-peace is critical, but I’m also pro-democracy, and as currently constructed, Israel is not a Jewish democracy. Those settlements make it so that it can’t be,” he said.

“The statement reflects abysmal historical ignorance. Israel offered the Palestinians a state in 2000-01. It ended the occupation of Gaza in 2005. It offered a state in 2008. The Palestinians said no. Now they won’t even negotiate,” Alan Dershowitz, constitutional law scholar and professor of law, emeritus at Harvard University Law School, told JNS. “Israel is a democracy, just like the U.S., which controls Puerto Rico and other territories that don’t have full voting rights.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS that Delgado’s attitude provides a stark reminder for the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

“Mr. Delgado demonstrated a clear lack of understanding and knowledge of Israeli democracy and laws. He repeated that it was ‘not a Jewish democracy’ several times, but did not explain that term,” said Hoenlein. “We have to do a better job educating candidates about the realities of Israel’s situation, history, society and the complex challenges it faces as a democracy fighting for its existence.”

Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, rebuked Delgado’s ignorance of Israel’s democratic nature.

“Delgado is wrong. Everyone in Israel, including Arabs and Christians, have a right to vote and fully participate in Israeli society, including being members of the Knesset,” Klein told JNS. “Israel has given away all of Gaza and 40 percent of West Bank, where 99 percent of the Palestinians live and have a right to vote for their own parliament, have their own schools, media and police.”

The problem, Klein explained, is that Palestinian leaders “haven’t allowed an election since 2005. Delgado should be condemning Palestinian leaders—not Israel—for not being democratic and running an Arab dictatorship.”

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee assured that “Israel is a Jewish state and a democracy. Any assertion to the contrary is ludicrous. Denying that Israel is a Jewish democracy is to deny historical fact, biblical truth and the observance of the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East.”

Faso himself was taken aback by Delgado’s statement.

“Israel is not a democracy? Israel is a strong democracy. It is a vibrant democracy. It has got a vibrant free enterprise system. It has got a vibrant agricultural system and culture. Israel is a democracy,” he said. “They are our main democratic ally in that region, and in fact, moving the embassy to Jerusalem was the right decision.”

Even former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile rebuked Delgado.

“I am an avid and strong supporter of Israel,” she told JNS. “Israel is our ally and a democratic state, as in small ‘d.’ ”

Faso leads Delgado by just 1 percentage point in last week’s Spectrum News-Siena College Research Institute poll.