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“Israel can be Jewish or democratic”?- An Analysis of John Kerry’s Statement December 29, 2016

Posted by Chris Mark in Uncategorized.
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kerry_israelOn December 28th, 2016, while speaking on the Two State system proposed in Israel US Secretary of State John Kerry made the curious (frightening?) statement that Israel: “…can be Jewish or it can be democratic- It cannot be both.”  The clear implication is that there is a binary choice (in Kerry’s mind) that Israel (and ostensibly every other nation in the World?) can either embrace religion or democracy – but not both.  This concept necessitates some debate on what, exactly, “democracy” is and means.

To understand governance and democracy it is important to understand the concepts.  First, let me make a bold statement (explained later in this article so keep reading)..”democracy is NOT a binary concept.  A democratic country is  not “Either democratic OR XYZ. Democracy is gauged on a scale.”

Democracy, while seemingly simple, can be a quite difficult concept to explain especially when considering the many different governments in the World.   First…let’s understand democracy from a common source.  Wikipedia states that Democracy:

“… is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.” 

A better resource (sorry Wikipedia) is the Center for Systemic Peace’s  Polity IV project. The Polity IV project dataset compiles information from 1800-2015 related to various aspect of regimes.  As stated on their website: The Polity conceptual scheme is unique in that it examines concomitant qualities of democratic and autocratic authority in governing institutions, rather than discreet and mutually exclusive forms of governance.”  The Polity project attempts to quantify and qualify governance and code them based upon their level of autocracy to democracy.

Democracy, as described by the Polity study, is defined by three factors.  Each democratic government may implement these in different ways and in differing amounts.  Democracy requires the “…existence of Processes and Institutions through which citizens can 1) affect their government 2) constrain the power exercised by the executive and 3) guarantee civil liberties.”  (BTW: You can read this in Dr. Heather Mark’s Dissertation found here.)

There are numerous forms and styles of democratic governments.  There are direct democracies in which citizens take part in the process directly.  There are representative democracies (like the US) where the citizens vote for representatives who then represent the interests of their constituents.  Each of these general types of government then have sub-types.

The US is a Presidential Republic, the UK is a Parliamentary Republic, and so on.  It is much like dogs.  All Rottweillers are dogs but not all dogs are Rottweillers.  So is a Poodle more of a dog than a German Shepard?  It is this type of question that the Polity study addresses.  The Polity study ranks each form of government based upon the ‘democratization’ of the government.   Countries can be more autocratic or more democratic.  All governments will find themselves somewhere on the spectrum.

Governments with a score of +6 to +10 are counted as democracies, with the higher scores representing more democratic governments.  A perfect 10 is reserved for those that are absolutely democratic.  Those who range from a -5 to a +5 are considered Anocracies. As Polity states: “Anocracies are a middling category rather than a distinct form of governance. They are countries whose governments are neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic but, rather, combine an, often, incoherent mix of democratic and autocratic traits and practices.” Those with a score -6 to a -10 are Autocratic with a -10 representing complete autocracy.

All governments will fall somewhere in the spectrum. Simply because the United States is polityisraela Presidential Republic does NOT mean we are NOT a democracy any more than the ugly dog down the street is NOT a dog because it does not look like my rugged, handsome, purebred Rottweiler.

So where does Israel fall in the spectrum?  Great question.  Israel has, since its founding, been coded by Polity as a “perfect 10” through 2013 with only a dip to a 9 between 1965 and roughly 2000.   In short, according to Polity, Israel is considered the “most” democratic country in the world! Even if one uses the UK’s Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index Israel is ranked at #34 in the world with a score of 7.77 out of 10 which make it a ‘Flawed Democracy” but..still democratic.

It is simply naïve and irresponsible for the sitting US Secretary of State to declare that a country must adhere to a single tenant to be considered ‘democratic’.  It is not supported by definition, research, nor by the objective facts.

You can see the regime trends by country and year in the graphic below.




1. sharinlite - December 29, 2016

Thanks…good chart & article.

2. John Crouch - December 29, 2016

Good discussion of democracy and Israel’s democracy. However, if your point was to comment on Kerry’s speech there should be more context. There are several paragraphs prior to this statement that provide the full meaning of what he said. It relates to the two state solution. I’m not going to pretend that I am am expert on this matter – very few are — but to pull one sentence out of an hour long speech and try to base an opinion on it is silly.

Chris Mark - December 29, 2016

My point was to comment on John Kerry’s specific comment. Sometimes comments stand on their own merit. This one does. I could debate the 2 state solution but my larger concern was his stated comment that Israel could be either Jewish or democratic…that is all.

John Crouch - December 29, 2016

Ok Then allow me to put in two a couple of points he made before the infamous statement. Again I don’t know the answer I just know that the statement was taken out of context.

“This is an issue which all of you know I have worked on intensively during my time as secretary of state, for one simple reason, because the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors.”

“Israel’s future is a Jewish and democratic state living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors. That’s what we are trying to preserve for our sake and for theirs.”

Chris Mark - December 29, 2016

That is John Kerry’s belief. Let me add that I find it in bad taste for the US to abstain on a vote in the US and for Kerry to make such a statement with less than 3 weeks in his role. HE believes a 2 state system is the only way…John Brennan believes a 3 state system is…regardless…what does this have to do with Kerry’s statement about Religion/Ethnicity (you can be ethnically Jewish..) and democracy?

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