Israel’s Threatened Democracy

Israeli liberal democracy has lived under external threat since Israel’s founding in 1948. There is however also a threat from within. 25% of the Knesset is occupied by explicitly anti-democratic political parties. 30 mandates out of a total 120 seats in the Knesset. 3 Marxist-Leninists, 4 Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and 23 advocates of halakhic statehood of whom 16 are Haredim and 7 are Haredi-leaning Religious Zionists. Israel’s Liberal Orthodox Yamina party (7 mandates) as led by current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett are in contrast staunch advocates and defenders of liberal democracy and principled opponents of theocracy.

The question is however what happens when the opponents of liberal democracy approach a majority in the Knesset? Will Israel with its Haredi and Hardal (Haredi- Leumi or National Haredi, religious Zionists who are Haredi-leaning in their religious observance) high fertility rates inevitably become a Jewish theocracy?

The answer is that Israel would at some point have no choice but to cease to be a liberal democracy and become a secularist and relatively liberal semi-democracy or “partly free” in the terminology of the US-based Freedom House. The liberal-democratic Zionist movement will obviously not commit suicide and and will certainly not hand over power to enemies of open society. The Jewish majority is not in danger but the democratic majority certainly increasingly is as Israeli advocates of theocracy (Negev Bedouins who overwhelmingly vote Islamist, Haredim and Hardalim) generally have much higher fertility rates than the rest of the Israeli population as they become an ever-larger share of the Israeli population and thus also gradually increase the proportion of pro-theocratic members in the Knesset. The present 25% anti-democratic share of the Knesset will only rise and rise with current demographic trends. With the continuation of contemporary demographic trends would there be some 40 million Israeli Haredim at the end of the 21st century.

Immigration of tens of millions of Median Jews from within and outside the Middle East would buy time for Israeli liberal democracy and prolong its shelf life with several decades.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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