Last updated on: 6/25/2008 9:37:00 AM PST

Is Israel a Secular State?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Daniel J. Elazar, PhD, the late Professor of Political Science at Temple University, Philadelphia, in a 1990 Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs essay titled "Israel as a Jewish State," wrote:

"Israel is formally a secular, democratic state, the only one in the Middle East besides Turkey, but its calendar and rhythm are deliberately Jewish in the same way that the calendars and rhythms of the states of the Christian world are Christian, and of the Muslim world, Muslim.

The Sabbath and Jewish holidays are official days of rest in Israel, albeit on social rather than religious grounds. Public and government bodies display Jewish symbols, whether mezzuzot on every doorpost in every public building or Hanukkah lights on top of every city hall at the appropriate season.

The Israel Defense Forces, El Al -- the national airline, and all other public institutions maintain Jewish dietary laws and an agreed-on modicum of Sabbath observance. Hebrew is the official and principal language of the country (Arabic is also an official language and English a recognized one). Because language is the principal bearer of culture, it strengthens the Jewish cultural identity of the state.

Even the most secular Israeli public figures use biblical and talmudic expressions in their speeches and discussions as a matter of second nature."

1990 - Daniel J. Elazar, PhD 

PRO (yes)

The 1948 Israeli Declaration of Statehood, contained the following statement regarding the freedom of religion:

"It [the State of Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

1948 - Israeli Declaration of Statehood

Mitchell Bard, PhD, Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), in a 2004 entry titled "Myths & Facts Online: Human Rights in Israel and the Territories," wrote:

"Israel has no state religion, and all faiths enjoy freedom of worship."

2004 - Mitchell G. Bard, PhD 

CON (no)

James M. Wall, Senior Contributing Editor of the Christian Century, in a May 2, 1984 commentary titled "Placing Blame in a Religious State," wrote:

"It [Israel] was founded as a religious state and continues to measure itself by religious standards."

May 2, 1984 - James M. Wall 

Jamal Zahalka, PhD, a member of the Israeli Knesset (Balad Party - Arab), in a Feb. 28, 2007 interview posted on Z-Net online political magazine titled "A State of all its Citizens," said:

"The state should be the state of all its citizens, in equality. That’s modern democracy, based on the equal human being, not the hierarchical human being. This is so important that no one in Israeli politics can ignore it. It explores the real nature of the Israeli state. Not just equality between Jews and Arabs, but the very nature of the state. Israel is not a secular state – it has not even reached the point of separation of religion and state. You can’t separate religion and state so long as the state is defined as a Jewish state. To come to the point of separation of religion and state, the state should be the state of all its citizens."

Feb. 28, 2007 - Jamal Zahalka, PhD