A Jewish and democratic restaurant

Salman Masalha

A Jewish and democratic restaurant

Compared to other countries, Israel has been blessed with many scientific inventions. If that were all there were to it, we could stop at this point and simply give thanks.

The problem is that in recent decades we have witnessed Israeli ingenuity in the invention of political concepts. It begins and ends with the slogan "Jewish state and democracy." This is an invention that can be compared to Ya'akov Meridor's famous lightbulb of the 1980s, which was supposed to light up all of Ramat Gan. Just as nobody bought this magic lamp, no clear-minded person could possibly buy this unfounded political turn of phrase. Only in Israel, it appears, do the chivalrous proponents of "Jewish and democratic" try to hitch the ox of "Jewishness" to the ass of "democracy."

Just recently we witnessed the collision between the ox and the ass in the controversy surrounding the "Jewish and democratic" school at the West Bank settlement of Immanuel. If that's the way things are at a Jewish school, it's not hard to imagine what would happen if we examined the state of affairs between Jews and Arabs.

This invented political turn of phrase was not so visible and prevalent in Israeli public discourse before the Six-Day War. It reached monstrous proportions due to the long occupation, which put Israel in a niche where it came to resemble the fox that swallowed a sickle, in the popular Arab tale. Not only did the fox swallow the sickle, it swallowed the screwdriver of the Gaza Strip. The fox could neither digest nor get rid of what had gotten inside it.

Since the occupation did not end and demographic facts continued apace, someone decided to get rid of the Palestinian screwdriver that had gotten stuck in Israel's knee. This removal was called the "Gaza withdrawal." But the demographic sickle remains stuck in the soft underbelly of the Israeli fox.

What is called in the Israeli dialect "the left" fell consciously into a trap set by the right and adopted the mendacious slogan "Jewish and democratic" to win some middle-of-the-road votes and attain Jewish tribal legitimacy. At a critical juncture, a Jewish tribal transformation swept up the state, cresting in the assassination of a prime minister.

There is great significance in the sequence of the words "Jewish and democratic," a phrase that has turned into a mantra uttered in every public discussion. The right relates only to the first part of the slogan, and compels "the left" to discuss the definition of "Jewish." The right would prefer to defer discussion about the essence of the word "democratic" to a later stage of debate about "final-status agreements." Until such time, the right will persist with attempts to cripple steps by the Supreme Court and other branches of government beholden to democracy. It will do its utmost to remove all substance from the term.

Interviewed by the daily Maariv on July 2, Nazareth Illit Mayor Shimon Gafsou expressed consternation about the increasing number of Arab residents in his town. "It would be wrong to forget that Nazareth Illit is a microcosm of the State of Israel," Gafsou said. "It's a Jewish and democratic city, but most of all Jewish."

It seems the phrase is constantly bandied about because it has no weight. With all the rhetoric about "Jewish and democratic," it's hard to see anything Jewish or democratic in the country. The day is not far off when we hear about the establishment of a "Jewish and democratic restaurant," as well as "Jewish and democratic fashion."

What then should the confused, sickle-ridden Israel fox do? He should internalize what is written in the book of Deuteronomy: "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together."

There is no such thing as a Jewish democratic state, just as there is no Muslim democratic state. Religion and democracy can never dwell under one roof.
Published: Opinion, Haaretz, 9 August 2010


Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"
Alexander Yakobson, "What's in the name?"
Uri Avnery, "Poisonous Mushrooms"
Lev Grinberg, "You can't be a Jewish Muslim"

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