A recent Facebook post on my feed disparagingly accused Israel of being a theocracy. Like so many accusations against Israel—including apartheid, genocide and colonialism—this one, too, is a lie.
Israel, despite being a Jewish nation—the world’s only—is also a democracy that gives every citizen a vote and protects the rights of all equally, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Still, many criticize Israel for its Jewish character, as though this makes Israel inherently unjust to non-Jews.
In fact—unlike the United States—the overwhelming majority of nations in the world have a national, ethnic or religious character. Denmark, Scotland and Bulgaria are Christian; Cambodia and Thailand are Buddhist; Bahrain, Algeria and some 28 others are Muslim. A few, like Iran and the Vatican, are theocracies—ruled by religious authorities.
Each of these nations defines itself according to unique historic unifying principles. Many of these nations are democracies that provide full rights to all, regardless of citizens’ background—like the United Kingdom, Argentina, Greece—and Israel.
The State of Israel has no written constitution, but defines itself as Jewish and democratic. As the Jewish People, through its foundational books and prophets, created the kernel for modern democracy, there is no inherent contradiction between its Jewish and democratic character.
Non-Jewish minorities in Israel, like Arabs, Druze and Circassians, have full, unfettered civil rights—representation in the government, parliament and Supreme Court, equal access to education and all professions and freedom to live anywhere they please.
However, some critics ignore these realities, attacking Israeli laws such as the Law of Return, the Nation-State Law and the Citizenship Law.
The first law allows any Jew, or non-Jew with a Jewish grandparent, to apply to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship. This is based on a long-established international principle called Jus Sanguinis, which provides a path to citizenship for people who have ethnic, cultural and historic ties with a particular country. For instance, in Italy, nationality may be transmitted perpetually if one can prove an Italian ancestor in one’s lineage after the founding of the Italian state.
Israel’s second law—the Nation-State Law—merely enshrines into law the national flag, anthem, days of rest, holidays and symbols of state. It reiterates that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish People and has a connection with the Jews of the Diaspora.
This conceptualization of a national flag, anthem and symbols is not unique to Israel. An example is the United Kingdom, which is defined as a Protestant country and the flag of which is based on the Christian cross.
The third law—the Citizenship Law—was passed in 2003, at the height of the bloody Second Intifada, which saw daily terrorist attacks. This law says that anyone who marries an Israeli citizen can receive Israeli citizenship. Since 1963, an estimated 250,000 Palestinians have become Israeli citizens in this way.
However, as many as 15 percent of terrorist attacks were perpetrated by Palestinians who took advantage of this law to marry Israelis and gain citizenship. Moreover, statistics also showed that this loophole was being manipulated by many Israeli Arab families to arrange marriages with Palestinians as a way to tilt Israel demographically—from Jewish to Arab.
For these reasons, Israeli lawmakers added a provision to the Citizenship Law that prohibits the automatic right to citizenship for any national of an enemy state or entity, including Iran, Syria and the “Palestinian territories.”
Note that every state has the right to legislate or regulate who becomes a citizen: No state, including the United States, is obligated to grant citizenship to those it perceives as enemies. Indeed, many other states have laws and policies restricting citizenship.
Understandably, the State of Israel must take steps that ensure and safeguard itself as a Jewish and democratic state. Ironically, some citizens and residents exploit and try to manipulate Israel’s democratic, liberal and free nature in order to harm it.
Israel’s national laws are not only not unique in the world, but Israel also restrains itself on these issues—to a far greater extent than the majority of nations around the world that are not considered free or democratic.
Unfortunately—and unfairly—Israel’s enemies attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state by implying that it is a unique evil in the world. However, even a cursory knowledge of international legal and constitutional systems easily dispels this inaccurate notion.
Unprincipled critics endeavor to diminish Israel’s virtuous Jewish nature in the eyes of the international community by misrepresenting such laws. Their arguments provide little background or context, and will rarely, if ever, compare and contrast Israel’s laws with those of other nations.
What’s more, the international media and hostile NGOs frequently declare that Israeli democracy is “dead” or that it is moving towards an ethnocentric or “apartheid” state—assuming its audience will not be aware of the actual facts.
Nonetheless, for those who value truth over bias, the facts are unequivocal: Israel is one of the most open and liberal democracies in the world—with a fiercely independent media, robust judiciary, strong opposition parties and numerous human rights organizations that operate freely to guarantee the rule of law is enforced and that human rights are respected.
In addition, Israel’s Declaration of Independence not only defines Israel as a Jewish state, but also as a democratic state based upon the principles of the separation of powers, freedom, and complete equality before the law for all its inhabitants—irrespective of religion, race, gender or nationality.
Above all, note that no nation is required to demonstrate its vitality by destroying itself. Israel’s national character—as both a Jewish and democratic state—are not in conflict, despite endless libels.
Remember, too, that every nation has the right to enact laws that enshrine its specific identity—and to pass laws ensuring its survival and the safety and security of its citizens. That such universally accepted practices are twisted to attack the Jewish state demonstrates nothing about Israel—they rather indict Israel’s accusers for their malign, unjust and hypocritical intentions.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.