Israel's Democracy, an issue of convenience!
Israel is recognized by the western world as the only "democracy" in the region. Israeli lobby and PR personnel often use this argument when discussing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The western world gives Israel credit for being a "democracy;" they identify with Israel and seem to forget the actual definition of a democracy. According to the English Webster dictionary, democracy is defined as: "distinct from governments controlled by single class, select group, or autocrats. Democracy is a philosophy that insists on the right and the capacity of the people, acting either directly or through representatives. Such a philosophy places high value on equality. It insists that necessary restraints be imposed only by the consent of the majority and that they conform to the principle of equality." Democracy is the government of the masses; everyone is protected and assured equal rights and representation.
In 1948, the Jewish community committed itself to democracy, or so it was stated. The state of Israel granted automatic citizenship to all its residents, Jews and non-Jews. Under Israeli law, every citizen is 'theoretically' entitled to full equality. Israel is duty-bound to protect the right of Arabs, and other minorities, to benefit fairly, and compete for leadership. This Jewish community failed to distinguish between Judaism and Israelism and this makes Israel's democracy incomparable to any other democracy per se. Prior to 1992, none of Israel's basic laws guaranteed any basic citizens rights, for Jews and non-Jews. The Human Dignity and Freedom law was passed then and it gave rights to dignity, life, freedom, privacy, property and the right to leave and enter the country. It did not include the right to equality. A 'Jewish and democratic state' is a contradiction of the philosophy of democracy. "The Zionist dream is to construct a state which is Jewish as England is English and France is French. At the same time this state is to be a democracy on the Western model. Evidently, these goals are incompatible. Citizens of France are French but citizens of the Jewish state may be non-Jews, either by ethnic or religious origin or simply by choice [...] To the extent that Israel is a Jewish state it cannot be a democratic state" (Noam Chomsky MIT).
Israel has adopted a policy of both direct and indirect discrimination that contradict the principals and philosophies of democracy. Political representation for the Palestinian citizens of Israel is discriminatory in itself. The law prohibits Palestinian citizens from mounting a political challenge to the state's Zionist identity in a legal forum, the Knesset (ie. Arab members of the Knesset must abide the ideological and political provisions of Zionism).
The Knesset denied and continues to deny participation in elections if their platform challenges the Zionist ideology. On the other hand, extremist religious Jews get fair representation, even though their ideals openly contradict democracy. Citizenship rights and the law of return are an obvious and direct discrimination and violation of people's democratic rights. The national law automatically grants citizenship to every Jew and his/her family as long as they meet the Halachic criteria of Jewishness. This is reserved only for Jews, while non-Jewish citizens can only acquire citizenship by birth to parents who already obtained Israeli citizenship.
The law of return discriminates against 4.6 million Palestinians (the Palestinian refugees) preventing them from returning to their homes and places of origin. Another form of direct discrimination is the special status for Jewish organizations, granting them power and control. Israel has created very influential Jewish organizations that have authority over certain governmental functions. These organizations benefit and represent Jews only. They control ownership, development of state lands, housing projects and illegal Jewish settlements constructed on Palestinian land. These activities are coordinated with the government. The agencies do not represent all citizens but provide protection for the government's discrimination. The Palestinian minority is excluded entirely from these agencies' actions as beneficiaries or participants.
Israel discriminates indirectly as well. The state does so through military service regulations and benefits. The vast majority of the Palestinian citizens are not required to serve in the army and as a result Palestinians do not receive the wide range of benefits, which affect public employment and housing, mortgage loans, as well as exemptions from course fees. These benefits are available though, for orthodox Jews who refuse to serve in the army. (1)
Place of residence is another way in which Israel discriminates. 'Bussing', as it was called in the US, drawing lines to limit the representation of a certain ethnic group, is a policy followed by the Israeli state. The country is divided into many zones. Israel provides different statuses and benefits to different regions and towns. "In 1998 classification, out of 429 localities accorded Development Area A status, only 4 were Palestinian." (Electronic Intifada). This is despite the need for development being greater in the Palestinian towns. Institutional discrimination is also evident when governments can adopt discriminatory policies, or when Israeli officials have and use a pattern of preference. Due to lack of representation in the government, Palestinians receive less funding for local government budgets. As a result the level is not even; equality is not present and the socio-economic gap is getting wider.
Israel is as far from democratic as apartheid regime is. A country that discriminates cannot be democratic. A country that adopts one religion as a mean to strengthen their ties to the land and create patriotism and discrimination in the name of religion is far from democracy. Last, but certainly not least, a country that caters to extreme religious factions and is so much influenced and affected by their school of thought is not democratic.
Israel is as democratic as South Africa was under apartheid regime. Israel claims to be a Jewish state when it needs to appeal to Jewish community, and a democratic state when appealing to the rest of the world. Israel is not a democracy, Israel is a Jewish democracy! When all along a 'Jewish and democratic' state is an oxymoron and cannot exist.
(1) However, taking into consideration the oppression inflicted on Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem at the hands of the Israeli army itself, it must be noted that 1948 Palestinians are not willing to serve in the Israeli army (nor are they welcome to do so)