Democracy in Question?

Challenges of the Israeli democracy today

Episode Notes

The episode explores with Avrum Burg the challenges with which the Israeli democracy is confronted. As Israel stands at the crossroads after the defeat of its longest serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his expansionist politics, which have marked the country's territorial expansion over the last decades, this episode asks: Will the new eight party coalition government mark the beginnings of a fight against the radicalization of the Israeli state and society? 

And what are the long-term effects of this radicalization, not just for the Israeli democracy itself, but also for the rights of Arab and Palestinian people in the region? Can democracy survive in Israel when the Arab minority is denied its legitimate claims to equal citizenship in the country? And what is the relationship of religious sentiments, religious resurgence, with democratic politics?


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Burg, A (2018). In Days to Come["A New Hope for Israel"]. Israel: Nation Books

Burg, A. (2016). The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes. United

States: St. Martin's Publishing Group.

Burg, A (2012). Very Near to You: Human Readings of the Torah, Jerusalem,

Israel: Gefen Pub House.

Elkana, Yehuda (1988), ‘The Need to Forget’. Ha'aretz.

Hirschman, A (1970). Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms,

Organizations, and States. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.


  1. Jewish Agency (for Israel)

The Jewish Agency since 1929 provides the global framework for Jewish people, ensures global Jewish safety, strengthens Jewish identity and connects Jews to Israel and one another. Source:

  1. Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politician and diplomat who served as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations in the ‘80s and twice as his country’s prime minister (1996–99 and 2009–21) and was the longest-serving prime minister since Israel’s independence. Source:

  1. Nation Law

Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People informally known as the Nation-State Bill  or the Nationality Bill, is an Israeli Basic Law largely symbolic and declarative in nature,passed by the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) on 19 July 2018. The legislation declares that Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people, and that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It establishes Hebrew as the official language of Israel and downgrades Arabic to a language with “special status”. The law also asserts that Jewish settlement—without specifying where—is a national value, and promises to encourage and advance settlement efforts. Source:

  1. Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)

The OPT consists of the West bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war. The launch of the 1993 Oslo peace process between Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) led to the creation of  the Palestinian Authority (PA). Source:

  1. Targeted prevention or targeted killings by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF):

 Targeted prevention occurred in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict against persons accused of carrying out or planning attacks on Israeli targets in the West Bank or inside Israel. Source:

  1. Yehuda Elkana (1934-2012)

Yehuda Elkana was a historian and philosopher of science, the third President and Rector of Central European University (1999-2009), an Auschwitz survivor who became an international scholar and public intellectual with a deep commitment to open society. He was an academic pioneer, leading CEU for nearly half the life of the University. Source:

  1. Green Line

Israel's territory according to the agreed 1949 Armistice Demarcation Line encompassed about 78% of the Mandate area, while the other parts, namely the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, were occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively. The 1949 Armistice Lines between Israel and its Arab neighbors came to be known as The Green Line. Source:

  1. ’73 War

Yom Kippur War, also called the October War, the Ramadan War, the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973, or the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was initiated by Egypt and Syria on October 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom kippur. It also occurred during Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting in Islam. The war was launched with the diplomatic aim of persuading Israel to negotiate on terms more favourable to the Arab countries. The Six-Day War in 1967, the previous Arab-Israeli war, in which Israel had captured and occupied Arab territories including the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights was followed by years of sporadic fighting. When Anwar Sadat became President of Egypt  shortly after the War of Attrition (1969–70) ended, made overtures to reach a peaceful settlement if, Israel would return the territories it had captured. Israel rejected those terms, and the fighting developed into a full-scale war in 1973. Source:

  1. Peace with Egypt known as Camp David Accords

Camp David Accords, agreements between Israel and Egypt signed on September 17, 1978, that led in the following year to a peace treaty between those two countries, the first such treaty between Israel and any of its Arab neighbours. Brokered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and officially titled the “Framework for Peace in the Middle East,” the agreements became known as the Camp David Accords because the negotiations took place at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1978 for their contributions to the agreements. Source:

  1. Intifada

Intifadah, (“shaking off”), either of two popular uprisings of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza aimed at ending Israel’s occupation of those territories and creating an independent Palestinian state. The first intifada began in December 1987 and ended in September 1993 with the signing of the first Oslo Accords which provided a framework for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The second intifada, sometimes called the Al-Aqṣā intifada, began in September 2000. Although no single event signaled its end, most analysts agree that it had run its course by late 2005. The two uprisings resulted in the death of more than 5,000 Palestinians and some 1,400 Israelis. Source:

  1. Oslo accords

The Oslo Accords were a landmark moment in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. A set of two separate agreements signed by the government of Israel and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—the militant organization established in 1964 to create a Palestinian state in the region—the Oslo Accords were ratified in Washington, D.C., in 1993 (Oslo I) and in Taba, Egypt, in 1995 (Oslo II). While provisions drafted during the talks remain in effect today, the relationship between the two sides continues to be marred by conflict. Source:  

Episode Transcription

SR: Welcome to "Democracy in Question," the podcast series that explores the challenges democracies are facing around the world today. I'm Shalini Randeria, the new rector and president of Central European University in Vienna and senior fellow at the Albert Hirschman Center on Democracy at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. In this episode, we step back into the world of politics and political activism with Avrum Burg, who is a well-known Israeli politician and author. He was chairman of the Jewish Agency between 1995 and 1999, an important member of the Israeli Labor Party's left wing in the late '80s and early '90s, and also the Speaker of the Knesset between 1999 and 2003.

He's the author of several books, including "Defeating Hitler" in 2008, "The Holocaust is Over, We Must Rise From its Ashes," and more recently, in 2018, "In Days to Come: A New Hope for Israel." In my conversation with Avrum today, I want to explore the challenges that Israeli democracy is confronted with. It stands at the crossroads after the defeat of Israel's longest serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his expansionist politics, which have marked Israel's territorial expansion over the last decades. Will the new eight party coalition government mark the beginnings of a fight against the radicalization of the Israeli state and society? And what are the long-term effects of this radicalization, not just for the Israeli democracy itself, but also for the rights of Arab and Palestinian people in the region? Can democracy survive in Israel when the Arab minority is denied its legitimate claims to equal citizenship in the country? What is the relationship of religious sentiments, religious resurgence, with democratic politics? Let's find out with Avrum Burg. Welcome to today's podcast Avrum. It's wonderful to have you here.

AB: Pleasure and an honor Shalini, thank you very much for having me.

SR: Let me begin with a controversial and unusual decision of yours that surprised many people recently. From being a member of the political elite in Israel, someone who was an office bearer in the Israeli parliament, you have become an outspoken critic of the politics of your government. Your decision recently was to exit, so to speak, your Jewish identity. You requested that “Jewish” be deleted from your Israeli identity card. Could you explain to us what compelled you to take such a radical step? And what does it mean to withdraw even the mention of your Jewishness from the records of the state?

AB: Let's begin with the records of the state. At the population registry, I'm registered as a Jew. Maybe it's the only place around the world in which an individual Jew is identified as a Jew. I mean, if I'm a Jew in Germany, or a Jew in America, a Jew in France, or even a Jew in India, I think I'm not sure, okay, nobody registers anywhere my faith, my belonging, my church, my synagogue, whatever it is. In Israel, they do, whatever the reasons are. For many, many years, there is a debate of what is Judaism? Is it a religion, a culture, a civilization, a nation? Not clear. So in between all of these unclear definitions, we somehow navigated. In the year 2018, the Knesset passed a bill, which is a Basic Law - almost equivalent to a constitution with us – which is the Nation Law. It redefines the Jewish collective in Israel stating that Israel belongs to the Jewish element and the Jewish nation etc., etc. And I say to myself, listen, I'm an Israeli, that's for sure. I'm a Jew who belongs to a 4000-year-old civilization, that's for sure. Does the new definition really correspond with my identity? The answer is: no. As an Israeli, I believe that Israel belongs to all of its citizens, 80% Jews and 20% non-Jews, equally. I do not believe in ethnical democracy, I do not believe in unequal democracy, it belongs to all with no question marks and no buts, no reservations.

And as a Jew, I cannot live under the premises of Neo-Judaism, which has a monopoly over identity, resources and is very insensitive to the voices and the needs of minorities, because we've been designed and defined as a minority for so many thousands of years. The minute the Israeli right-wing conservative and ultra conservative decided to redefine Judaism via the law, to say it's the place of the majority and the heck with the minority, I said, for this kind of definition: I do not belong, and nobody can impose on me a definition. So, I applied the case, it's still in front of the court, let's see.

SR: But if I take the larger point that you are making here, what is this particular Basic Law, the Nation Law? In what way does it really further worsen decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory that has preceded the law?

AB: It first deals with the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, which are 20% of the Israelis. And it has nothing to do with the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, which are under a different kind of a legal system, but they're not Israeli citizens. So, it's only within the boundaries of Israel, and has very little to do technically with the Occupied Territories and the occupied Palestinians over there. And what it does is yes, since they won in '48, Israel had the beautiful rhetoric of equality of all of its citizens, but the de facto was, let's call it some built-in discriminations, which prioritized(?!) the Jews and their privileges and discriminated the others. It is not nice, but always people like me said, "Listen, it's only de facto, one day we have an aspiration to get to the de jure level. And once we shall have a constitution, all will be equal. 

Now, all of a sudden, the law itself does not recognize the equal rights and the equal liberties, and the equal freedoms of the individual or collective Palestinians, who are Israeli citizens. For example, the language: Hebrew prevails over Arabic, which was not the case up until recently in the Israeli law, because they were equal languages. For example, the government will encourage settlement of the land for Jews mainly; and the worst of this all: the very simple, naive word like “equality” is not mentioned. So, if you have an updated legislation, which is constitutional depth legislation, with writing off or not mentioning the concept of equality, it means you mean inequality.

SR: That is a strong argument. Let's go back to a highly political question here, like Donald Trump, Netanyahu's era in power may be over, but his influence seems to still cast a long shadow on Israeli politics. So, what do you see as the new and fragile perhaps coalition of eight parties with all its deep internal contradictions, which includes, for the first time the Arab party, as well? What do you see the politics of this coalition changing in terms of citizenship rights?

AB: Politically speaking, pure politics, the Netanyahu's nightmare is over. Okay, so he does not frequent my nightmares anymore. But this government is not something I was dreaming about. It's a fascinating government in the sense that it corresponds with a lot of what was exposed in the political sociology all over the world - different alignments and different cooperation is needed and required nowadays. And you see strange bedfellows, going for dinner and later for bed together that you never expected things like this to happen. So, you have a government that on one hand is real ideologically right-wing, conservative, expansionist, etc. and on the other hand, civil rights movement and an Arab party, but it's an Arab party, which is very conservative and religious. So, what are they? Are they the other part of the left, which stands for the minority? Or are they part of the conservative because they're driven by religious values, no LGBT, etc., etc., respect.

So, it's a very interesting coalition of diversity, which reflects the diversity of the society. The fact that they succeed to dialogue and to talk with each other is maybe what is needed now for Israel after years of injuries; and this government pacifies the situation, calms down, the rhetoric is milder, everything is softer. And even the political arena is less boiling. So, this is great. The problem with the former government is not just the individual Netanyahu, but the concept of Netanyahuism. The Netanyahuism is a combination of very, very conservative, right-wing children of light versus children of darkness and “we” are light and all of “them” i.e. all the Muslims, or all the left wingers, or all the liberals, are all part of the realm of darkness and we are the light. And it's a constant Armageddon between “us” and “them” with real and imagined and much more imagined enemies and adversaries, and opposition. Plus, this combined with the uprising populism all over the world, Trump, Orbán, Erdogan, Putin, India, Modi in India you name it.

And in a very, very embarrassing way for me as an Israeli and especially for me as an Israeli Jew, Netanyahu, the individual, became the kosher certificate for so many of these illiberal soft tyrants and populists. And the question in Israel is: will Israel overcome Netanyahu? And the question for the world is: will the world overcome Trump and Netanyahu?

SR: This is, of course, the million-dollar question. How are we going to step back from this kind of illiberalism, soft authoritarianism, and return to liberal democracies, also secular, liberal democracies? And we'll come to the question of religion in a moment. But I want to discuss another question with you, which is also common to what you call Netanyahuism, we've seen it with Trumpism. It's the question of the polarization by using a certain language, which is “us“against “them”, a certain kind of political rhetoric, a certain kind of vocabulary, which is common in a way to right wing political movements all over the world, including in Europe.

You have been one of the strongest critics of the Israeli public sphere and you have in fact, argued that it's characterized by a dose of self-defeat, especially when it comes to Israel's military actions. And let me quote a really powerful passage from your 2008 book. You write, "When our armed forces in which our children serve, kill people who pose no immediate threat, who are not about to commit an act of terror, we stop reading, knowing, hearing, and caring, because the army uses the term "targeted prevention". Targeted prevention sounds so much better than “extermination”, “assassination”, or “liquidation." How important is it, Avrum, to recover a language that represents accurately the nature of Israeli militaries project against the Palestinians? And how can we come back to a liberal democratic language?

AB: I don't have a good answer. I feel that in so many fields in our life, our lexicon is limited, and the syntax is quite, almost confined; all over by the way, not just in Israel. I would like to attribute it in Israel to two elements. The first is, it's a very military-centered society. The language is very macho, but macho like in a patriarchal society. It's mano a mano. So, the language is very violent, almost, not almost old fashioned, almost Neanderthal in the cave, item number one. Item number two is the centrality of the Holocaust in our psyche that in a direct and indirect way became the backbone of the discourse. At what sense? During one of the last rounds in Gaza, and we have many last rounds in Gaza, okay, every weekend we have a last round in Gaza. Of course, people like me went out for demonstration against it.

Some of the right wingers, activists who opposed us cornered me at the corner, so they said, "Burg, we want to talk with you." I said, "Okay, let's talk." So, one of them said, "Avrum, I understand you don't like the war in Gaza. But tell me something honestly." I said, "Honestly." He said, "Do we operate gas chambers in Gaza?" I said, "Of course not." So, he said, "So, it's okay." When you compare everything to the absolute evil, especially the absolute evil done to you, all of the sudden everything is whitewashed. Everything is kosher.

Israel adopted the trauma under Netanyahu especially, but he did not begin with it, he especially perfected it; adapted the trauma as a national strategy instead of recovering and adopting trust rather than trauma, the trauma of not trusting and actually asking for benefits and credit in places we did not deserve it, became the national motto and became the national strategy. So much so, that unfortunately, we did not listen to an individual who was dear to you and dear to me, Professor Yehuda Elkana. He was an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor and as a kid he came out of it, and then later on became a very influential intellectual in Israel and in Europe, who wrote during the '80s: two kinds of people came out of Auschwitz. Those who believe that Never Again is for Jews only and those who believe the Holocaust happened by human to human and therefore Never Again is for any human being by any other human being. And therefore, we should be sensitive universally, rather than very sensitive particularly. Israel, unfortunately, took the Jewish angle only, and this is part of the higher level, highbrow struggle people like me do with the Netanyahuism.

SR: So, this is a very interesting point, Avrum, which you make with reference to our dear friend, Yehuda Elkana, who was one of my predecessors here, he was the rector of the Central European University. And this article of his which you cite, which he published in 1988, in "Ha'aretz," which I think was titled "The Need to Forget," he makes the argument that exactly for the reasons that you have cited, this is the tragic and paradoxical victory of Hitler. And that is really a strong argument he makes. I want to dwell on this point about the importance of memory and of historical memory and also of the instrumentalization of historical memory that you have just mentioned. And let me quote to you something which you yourself have written in your book in 2008, when you say, and I quote you, "The Shoah must therefore have an important place in the nation's memorial mosaic. But the way things are done today, transforms this holy memory into a ridiculous sacrilege and converts piercing pain into hollowness and kitsch." Why do you think that this kind of instrumentalization is still so effective?

AB: Fear is a very persuasive driver, especially fears from the future - global warming, nuclear weapons especially in the hands of sub-states powers, violence, trafficking, drugs, unemployment, economy, robotization, you name it, and therefore many people say, "Let's go back to the past”. Everybody has, like Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "Nostalgia is not what used to be”, everybody has a not used to be nostalgia." Trump wants to make America great again. Putin wants to go back to be ä czar, Erdogan to the New-Ottoman Empire, the Iranians to the Persian Empire, the ISIS to the Khalifah, the Jews here in Israel to the Second Temple, to build the Third Temple, everybody wants to go back to the past, like it was a confident, secured past, which never was...

When you take all of these fears that some of them are imagined, and some of them are for real, you realize that we live in a generation that fear is important for people to define their identity and belonging. And now we come and say to ourselves, not only do we have their fears, we have a real concrete one.

So, in a way, it's a very effective tool to design and to define and to mold the Israeli and Jewish identity and belonging, because it happened. It is not something that's doomed to happen or might happen. It happened to me. It happened to my grandpa, every one of us still knows somebody who has been there. And therefore, the fear of the '40s of the last century corresponds beautifully... “Beautifully”, I mean ugly, in an ugly way, with the current psyche of fear and politics of fear.

SR: Let me talk about another aspect of the fear, I think, which is quite powerful in the way it impacts Israeli politics, but it also impacts politics, in Hungary, in India, and that is: demographic fear. The panic of losing the demographic race, and the idea that Jewish majority could suddenly become a minority in its own country, or a Hindu majority could be outrun demographically by Muslims in India. Could you say something about this whole demographic anxiety, which is gripping so many countries in the world today? And what kinds of politics does it lead to?

AB: I want to narrow my approach to my little world. What do I know about India? Okay, in our world, first numbers within the official legal Israel, which is what we call '67 Lines- there are 80% Jews and 20% non-Jews. Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, we have 50% Jews and 50% Palestinians, and in the region, we are a drop in the bucket. So psychologically speaking, every Israeli, at every given moment is both overwhelming majority and a tiny minority. And we dwell between the two: what are we?

Let's go to the official Israel, up until '67 Israel, the 80%, 20%, I mean. The Palestinian component of the population has to make so much love in order to grow from a 20% to majority, that they will be so much full of love that there will be no animosity anymore. I mean, it's impossible number-wise; but let's assume it is possible number-wise, okay, what's the story? The story is as follows. Between us and the Palestinian in the Occupied Territories, there is a separation wall, as if there is no reality behind it. It's, "I don't see it, it doesn't see me, it does not exist." It's a total evading reality. And I say for years, the real partition wall is not crossing the country, the real partition wall is in the bedroom. If I'm not allowed to marry somebody, whom I love, but she or he belongs to a different religion. A Jew cannot marry a Muslim here officially in a civil marriage. Or a Muslim cannot marry a Jew and vice versa, okay?

It means that the system via its marriage, and via its educational system, and via everything, keeps the partition wall between the individuals. I believe that only in a society that everybody is allowed to love and to marry, and you have mixed schools, and mixed kindergartens, and mixed working, and shared working places and shared families, the hope for reconciliation is greater. Not secured, not assured, but greater. And this is exactly what people of both sides do not want to have. People cannot see it, because the tribalism is so embedded into our thinking. So, it's very difficult to think about walking out of the tribe boundaries and marry out.

SR: So, this is what brings me to the question of religion. Do you think religion is incompatible with liberal democracy? Can only a secular country be a liberal democracy? Or can we be religious and still hold to liberal values?

AB: In the last couple of years, I was sitting in a beautiful cave in Vienna. And I was writing a book which started as one thing and ended up being something else. And what I wrote about is as follows if you ask me, "Avrum, give me an introduction to your Jewish civilization." Shalini, I will give you texts illuminated like Buddha was never illuminated like this- that you should love your friend like yourself, respect your parents, share your prosperity, Shabbat Saturday as a social endeavor, you name it. And then you ask me, "Avrum, tell me, if you had such a beautiful text and you are the nation of text, how come this your situation is so not the best?" Not to use other words. And I will tell you, "Shalini, you know what? Because we always hide behind the beautiful, illuminated texts and we never had the courage and the guts to address the poisonous ones.

So let me give you one poisonous one, which I discovered along the banks of the Danube in Vienna. If you go out to the street, and you ask a common, average Israeli and you ask, "What are you?" He says, "I'm a Jew," and you ask, "What is a Jew?" And he or she will say, "We are the chosen people." What is this chosen-ness? Some will say something, and many will say, "God-chosen, genetically superior," like, racial superiority. And then I will come with this question: can the notion of chosen- ness which says one is superior to the other live together with the notion of democracy in which one is equal to the other? And my answer is:  no, it's impossible.

So, we as Jews, were minority for so many thousands of years, we had, we need the psychological escape route of, "Uh, yeah, yeah, well, we are oppressed, we are tortured, we are exiled. But listen, one day, all the world will realize how superior we are." So that's the tool of the persecuted. But now that we are the majority, and we are the system, and we are the state and the kingdom, we cannot allow ourselves but to get rid of this notion of chosen-ness.

Now, let's take you through the structural place. When you go at the western (not the western world), the monotheistic realm, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, you have two basic structures. The first is the Christian one. When Jesus says at Matthew, he says, "Give God what is God and render Caesar what is Caesar." That was the foundation or the cornerstone of the later to become separation of church and state in so many Christian countries around the world, especially Europe, and the United States of America, and other places.

Muhammad was unlike Jesus. Jesus was in opposition to the regime, both the Herodian and the Roman, and the Rabbinical one, the Jewish one. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was both a prophet and a politician, both a theologian and a statesman.

So, he actually merged and infused the church and state into one, and therefore in no Islamic reality, you have this thinking of separation between church and state. You take this and you ask an Israeli, "What are you? Are you Christian or Muslims?" 

Very difficult, because when you look at it top down, the last 40 some years of conservative rule, the legislation, the expression of ministers, and prime ministers, and intellectuals, we are very, very Muslim getting, narrowing more and more the gap between church and state to the sense that many would like to see the Israel as a religious theocracy. Ministers included, members of Knesset included. When you go to the street level, many people are in Tel Aviv, like in Berlin, in Haifa or in other places like in Amsterdam, etc., which is very, very Christian.

So, I will say a lot of the bottom-up reality is the Christian de facto separation between state and people and people of faith. And top down is a very Muslim one. We are kind of a mixture, not clear; and it tortures the country because bottom line in Israel, there is a Cold War between church and state, between synagogue and the Knesset. As long as we have a real or imagined conflict outside of us, we never turn our eyes inside. The minute, one day there will be peace between us and the rest of the region, this tension between the two very strong tendencies - secularism versus religiosity- will erupt and not necessarily in a nice way.

SR: That is not a very positive note to end on. So, let me ask you a question, which maybe you're more optimistic about, and that is the feasibility of the Green Line. Do you believe that it's still feasible to think of a horizon of justice in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be peacefully settled? And if so, by what means could that possibly be? And what support could there be from an international civil society or from international actors towards that aim? 

AB: I'm not a pessimist or unlike my mother, I'm a different optimist. We used to ask my mom, "Mom, what are you? Are you an optimist or a pessimist?" She said, "Moi, of course, I'm an optimist. Today is much better than tomorrow." That was my mom's optimism, okay? My optimism is - I really believe we move onwards to the right direction with many hurdles. It's not easy, but I see the development, we don't have time to describe them- two things: one to the negative and one to the positive. To the negative: the conflict between us and the Palestinians, unfortunately, mostly because of Israeli attitude, who sanctified the ownership of the Holy Land over the sanctity of life, and therefore compromised the land, created a situation that the conflict, which was a national and political one, deteriorates very fast into a religious conflict between Muslim fundamentalists and Jewish fundamentalists. I see it, and its bad. To the positive side, we Israelis...- I cannot speak for the Palestinians- we Israelis, we react very, very, very well, once we face a trauma. Once we faced '73, the war which we were almost defeated, led to the peace with Egypt. Four hundred percent inflation in the '80s, led to the opening of the market and also created almost a free market economy here. The first Intifada led to the Oslo agreement. I believe that sooner than later, something very dramatic will happen. And I do not know what's the nature of it. I hope it will not be bloodshed, so help us God. That finally Israelis will understand that without relinquishing the total privileges of the Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, it will be impossible to live together.

I see the future in which every individual between the Jordan and the Mediterranean has the right for the same rights. The minute this is the constitutional ground, ground floor, I see a mezzanine floor in which there is a Jewish political entity called Israel and a Palestinian political entity called Palestine, in which most of the national community issues are resolved within. And on top of it, I see a third floor that will be the Confederation, in which each relinquishes some of its motivation and some of its pride, and some of its privileges in order to coordinate the living together. So, by the end of the day, through a lot of misery yet, we'll have a reality that every individual has rights. And I do not count states anymore, I count rights only. You will have political instruments or political entities in which these rights are being expressed collectively. And then you have a penthouse or a third floor that makes the living together possible.

SR: Thank you so much, Avrum for this fascinating interview, which touches on so many facets of democratic dilemmas the world over today. Thanks very much for being with us today.

AB: Thank you very much for having me.

SR: So, what you have reminded us is that Israel, like every modern nation state should and must belong to all its citizens. The nation should not therefore be defined by either ethnicity or by religion. Because such a definition not only privileges the majority unfairly, but it is also discriminatory and insensitive to minority rights, something which you would expect the Jews to be especially sensitive to. You also pointed out that our political language lacks a new syntax, a new vocabulary that would be needed to return to liberal democratic principles and values, away from the soft authoritarian tendencies which we are seeing today. And you caution us against the instrumentalization of historical memory, which is being used selectively to bolster all kinds of fears by right-wing political movements, not only in Israel, but all over the world.

And finally, you cautioned us against the kind of fear that begins to define our very belonging, our identities, including the newly stoked demographic panic, the fear of losing the demographic race, which is more about demographic imaginaries than about real numbers. This was the third episode of Season Three of "Democracy in Question." Thank you very much for listening. Please go back and listen to any of the episodes which you may have missed. And of course, let your friends know about this podcast if you've enjoyed it. You can stay in touch with the work of CEU at and the Albert Hirschman Center on Democracy at