Gil Kahn’s column, “Threats to the Mideast’s Only Democracy” (Dec. 29), reminds me of the demagoguery that Israel’s enemies use in the UN and elsewhere to hold the Jewish state to an impossible standard.
In particular, Prof. Kahn questions Israel’s commitment to democracy and freedom of religion because the Israeli government does not recognize “religious pluralism.” I am not writing to debate the merits of pluralism, but rather to point out that Prof. Kahn is being hypocritical in suggesting that Israeli democracy is somehow defective by not acceding to the American pluralism agenda.
Unlike American Jews, Israelis do not typically align themselves with a movement such as Reform or Conservative Judaism. Instead, they define themselves by their level of religious practice. Israelis identify as haredi (ultra-Orthodox), dati leumi (nationalist-religious), or hiloni (secular), among others.
Reform and Conservative Jews represent a statistically insignificant percentage of Israeli Jewry. The haredi community, which Kahn blames directly for perceived democratic shortcomings, is actually a significant and growing voting bloc. Meanwhile, polls have shown that Israeli voters are primarily concerned with the high cost of living and security issues, while issues of religion and state simply don’t register. When the Israeli electorate is ready to change the status quo on pluralism, it will use the democratic process to do so. Democracy functions when the government reflects the priorities of its people.
Prof. Kahn views the pluralism issue as a “sore point” with American-Jewish supporters, which is just evidence of a willful ignorance regarding Israeli society and its historic religion-state institutions. Pressure from American organizations to impose a pluralism agenda on Israeli society is thoroughly undemocratic and egocentric. It promotes disunity among Jews and creates yet another undeserved
image problem for Israel at a time when our enemies are quite effectively inundating the world with anti-Israel propaganda.
Israel has more pressing challenges today, and we should unite to support the one and only Jewish state — and the only true democracy in the Middle East.