The Challenge of Ethnic Democracy: The State and Minority Groups in Israel, Poland and Northern Ireland

By Asenwar, Amani | Insight Turkey, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

The Challenge of Ethnic Democracy: The State and Minority Groups in Israel, Poland and Northern Ireland


Asenwar, Amani, Insight Turkey


By Yoav Peled

London and New York: Routledge, 2014, 178 pages, [pounds sterling]92.00, ISBN: 9780415664219

In the midst of political discussions over Israel's controversial Jewish Nation-state Law adopted in July, re-examining Israel's alleged ethnic democracy becomes more pivotal. In the late 1980s, the Israeli sociologist Sammy Smooha conceptualized the concept of ethnic democracy, and considered Israel as an archetype. Yoav Peled, author of The Challenge of Ethnic Democracy, was one of the Israeli scholars to accept identifying Israel as an ethnic democracy, albeit with reservations regarding the stability of this political system. Peled argues that in states built upon ethno-nationalism, ethnic democracy could be a mediating formula between ethnocracy, that denies individual rights for minorities, and liberal democracy that guarantees equality for all citizens. In ethnic democracy, the state combines majoritarian electoral procedures and individual citizenship rights with the institutionalized dominance of a majority ethnic group over the society and the state. Although this model has received much criticism regarding the quality of the democratic sphere it offers, this book warns that Israel's ethnic democracy is barely sustainable in the wake of several economic and political changes since 2000.

In chapter one, Peled explores his comparative methodology between the cases of Israel, Northern Ireland (1921-1969), and Poland (1918-1939) to create a pattern of the preconditions required to guarantee the stability of an ethnic democracy. He argues the necessity of a third principle to mediate between ethno-nationalism and liberal democracy, as well as sufficient economic capabilities to sustain this third principle. In chapter two, Peled concludes that populism was the undeclared principle adopted by the Unionist government in Northern Ireland to forge an alliance between Protestant middle and working classes, and thus prevent any class-based united action between workers in both majority and minority communities. Populism sustained ethnic nationalism in Northern Ireland for 48 years, but the lack of independent economic capabilities led to its collapse in 1969.

In chapter three, Peled argues that ethnic democracy failed in Poland because the state did not create the third principle required for stability. Rather, it relied on exclusionary and authoritarian political policies to address ethnic and economic problems. Moreover, the Polish economy in the inter-war period could not provide a material base for a non-ethnic principle of solidarity for the core ethnic group. Chapter four considers that Israel's ethnic democracy started in 1966; prior to that, Israel was not a democracy because of its suspension of the Palestinians' citizenship rights by the military regime imposed on them. It also argues that since 2000, Israel's ethnic democracy has begun to erode as a consequence of series of suppressive policies and discriminatory legislation against non-Jewish minorities, specifically the Arab minority.

The Challenge of Ethnic Democracy adopts the same logic used by Sammy Smooha in defending the model of ethnic democracy. It makes Israel an archetype; thus, it builds the model by describing the Israeli case, rather than combining various case studies to extract features and theorize an ideal type, which opens the door to criticisms regarding the objectivity and integrity of this work. Yoav Peled argues that between 1966 and 2000, Israel succeeded in creating a balanced ethnic democratic system by enhancing the principle of civic republicanism. The core of this principle, according to Peled, was "endowing Israeli Jews with solidarity based on a common moral purpose, which is, the fulfilment of Zionism" (p. …

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