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Secularism, Jewishness, and Democratism

The conflict between Israel and the surrounding Arab majority has had a major role in shaping Israel. Israel defines itself as secular, Jewish, and democratic — but how does it balance religiosity, pluralism, and other considerations?

These factors — secularism versus anti-secularism; Jewishness versus anti-Jewishness; and democratism versus anti-democratism — can intersect in multiple ways. In other words, there are three variables (S, J, and D) each on a spectrum ranging from maximality (+1) to nullness (0) to minimality (-1).

Wherever the State of Israel falls on this spectrum, these are three central values to the state. The Jewishness of Israel is not necessarily clearly defined, and there is not just one definition offered by the state. However, the centrality of Jewishness — and the non-centrality of non-jewishness (Druze, Arab, Muslim, etc) as a minority within the Jewish-majority society — seems to be a lowest common denominator which allows one to say that a certain Jewishness is characteristic of State's apparatus its constituents, the society. Similarly, values of secularism and democratism are fundamental to the State of Israel.

However, consider totally maximal, null, or minimal expressions of these three values,




This is the variable of secularism in the State of Israel.

A state that is completely secular, and in fact anti-religious, e.g. a government that actively excises religion from matters of government but also all areas of life touched by government. In such a state, taking an oath to G-d would be forbidden in court.

A state that is neither secular nor anti-secular, and considers religion strictly a private or personal matter. In such a state, a person may personally choose to take an oath to G-d in court.

A state that is completely anit-secular, e.g. a religious theocratic government that considers its legitimacy as derived directly from G-d. In such a state, a person would only be able to serve as a witness in court if they take an oath to G-d.

This is the variable of Jewishness in the State of Israel. Interestingly, the earliest Zionist thinkers largely disregarded making a fixed definition of Jewishness. And today, the State of Israel grants citizenship to non-Jews who have Jewish ancestry.

A state that has a completely Jewish characteristic. For example, the ancient Jewish kingdom of Judah, in revolt against Roman imperialism.

A state that has no Jewish characteristic. For example, countries where there was never any Jewish community and neither adherence nor rejection toward Abrahamic religions, such as Hong Kong.

A state that has a completely anti-Jewish characteristic. For example, countries that have purged their Jewish communities, and removed access to kosher food and other basics for Jewish life.

The is the variable of democratism in the State of Israel. In essence, it measures how democratic is the State of Israel.

A state that is totally democratic, where all residents are equal citizens, and the government takes affirmative steps to ensure equal and equitable representation in government. For example, such a government may critically examines areas where the demographics of decision-makers does not reflect the overall population composition. Also, such a government may outlaw gerrymandering where it diminishes minorities, but may actually support gerrymandering where it helps increase minority representation.

A state that may be democratic but neither completely representative nor completely majoritarian. For example, the United States uses a bicameral legislature to address these issues. Alternatively, there may be democratic processes but candidates may not be totally representative.

A state that is totally non-democratic, where rights are not equally held whatsoever, and in fact voting rights and other rights also are systemically repressed for some populations.

If we consider the spectrum as only containing two positions (+1 or -1) and applying to three variables, there are possible outcomes. Consider what these states would look like, e.g. one that is totally anti-secular, anti-Jewish, but pro-democratic, or if they would even be stable or possible,

Obviously, there are lots of possible states when just a few features are central to that state's identity. Many or most of these possibilities seem have instability as a built-in feature, due to obvious tension or conflict in their configurations, and this may explain why so many states use abusive force to strengthen states that have fundamentally weak or volatile foundations.

The reality is actually far more complex, with intermediary values — and so forth — being necessary to describe the reality of the situation. But if we assume there are three possible positions — +1, 0, and -1 — then there are possible outcomes,