Op-Ed. Out of the Monkey Cage

By : Ofra Yeshua-Lyth and Ghassan Olayan /

Thinking beyond the two-state solution does not necessarily imply the end of democracy

“Most countries in the world are not democratic and have evolved a national identity and discourse to normalize this reality. The evidence suggests that Israeli Jews are prepared to join the club,” tells us Professor Michael N. Barnett (Monkey Cage/Thinking beyond the two-state solution, WP blogs, August 25, 2015). While the article correctly describes the political mood and reality in Israel, including the non-viability of the two-state solution, its “empirical analysis” fails to take into account the deep internal schisms that characterize the two communities in the country.

The ethnonational political entity we live in is far from solid. Both Jewish the non-Jewish societies in Israel/Palestine present growing fundamentalist, chauvinist and patriarchal-authoritarian forces on the rise. Both have educated elites threatened by these powers. Describing them as two monolithic blocks with opposing national aspirations is a simplification that does not tell the full story.

Admittedly, the Jewish liberal elites in Israel, like most American Jews, are still committed to the ethnonational model, the generator of the hundred year old “security problem”. The writer goes a long way to discuss the options for those who want the Jewish state to be democratic, only to decree that they should simply learn to live without democracy. Not difficult really, as already we have a sizable population for whom “democracy matters relatively little”. Israel’s idea of democracy after all had never included equal civil rights even for Jewish women, let alone non-Jews in and outside the separation wall.

Surprisingly, and disappointedly, Professor Barnet does not even stop to consider the options for those of us who would choose more democracy over politicized Jewishness. The option for secular democracy is sorely missing, in fact aggressively dismissed and hushed in the American Jewish discourse about the Middle East. Living in a secular democracy that allows them to develop rich and successful communal life without the need for demographic majority, one would expect American Jewish intellectuals to recommend this political model for their relatives in Israel.