What did the Secretary of State mean by this dichotomous ultimatum?

Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both.

Why should it be incompatible?

If England, Denmark and Greece can be Christian states and Morocco and Saudi Arabia can be Islamic states, what did Kerry mean when he said this?

  • 60
    How is England, Denmark and Greece "Christian states"? Also, how are Morocco and Saudi Arabia relevant to a question about democracy?
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 4:04
  • 11
    @user4012 Germany does not have a state church: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_religion
    – Roland
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 8:50
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    This question appears to be lying about what Kerry said, by saying "a state" and suggesting he's making a general statement rather than "Israel in the one state case" which entails specific borders and therefore specific demographic realities about the population within those borders. It should at least be changed to have a less inflammatory title and an accurate quote.
    – Random832
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 12:27
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    while i don't have enough time to provide a solid answer, i do see that nobody has pointed out that unlike America Israel still segregates its citizens into ethos groups, ie. a group which can vote (Jews) and several groups which cannot (non-Jews) wherein the only recognized National Citizens of Israel are Jews and non-Jews are relegated to a life as non-voting occupants of "The Jewish State of Israel" (else, allowing non-Jews to vote would create a non-Jewish majority). because America has no such concept (nay, we abhor it!) it's hard for many to understand the statement made by Kerry.
    – wilson0x4d
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 20:06
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    @ShaunWilson : For all Israel's sins, that's a gross mis-characterization of matters. Israeli citizens can vote (Jewish or otherwise, and Israel has many. many non-Jewish citizens). Non-citizens cannot. That's how voting works everywhere. The problem is that Israel has millions of Palestinians under military occupation, and they have no path to citizenship. Both "Israel segregates its citizens" and "The group who can vote are Jews" are absolutely false.
    – Ziv
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 15:29

4 Answers 4


That's not what he said. John Kerry said:

But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both –and it won’t ever really be at peace.

So what he is trying to say here is that

  1. In his opinion, Israel should embrace a two state solution.

  2. If Israel does not split off Palestine into a separate state, it has to choose between being a Jewish state that does not represent the Palestinian Muslims. Or, it can be a democratic state that is majority Muslim.

He is not saying that countries in general can't be both religious and democratic. His criticism is specific to Israel as a single state that includes the Palestinian areas. In fact, under his idealized two state solution, presumably both states would be religious and democratic. Israel would be Jewish and Palestine would be Muslim.

In a way, this is an offering to Israel. If they surrender to his terms, he believes they could be Jewish and democratic in their portion of the current country. However, many people aren't reading it that way.

There have been a number of criticisms of this stance. For example, it's not clear that the two states would achieve peace. This doesn't resolve the overall problem that most Middle Eastern Muslim countries do not support Israel's right to existence as a Jewish state, at least not popularly (the leadership may).

Note that such criticisms have their own detractors. Obviously Kerry doesn't agree with this, and he's not unique in that.


I love this question, if simply because so many people have misinterpreted Kerry's statement. He is stating that if Israel commits to a one-state solution, they will have to choose between being democratic and representing all of the people within the country, or remaining a state in which only Jewish people (and a small minority of Arab Israelis) are represented within the government. That is what he meant when he said that, not that a country cannot combine Judaism and democracy.

  • 4
    "a state in which only Jewish people are represented within the government" .... But there are non-Jews in the Knesset presently! So why again can it not both??? Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 12:19
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    @ElShteiger: You can be a non-Jew in the Knesset, as long as you do not deny the state of Israel being Jewish in nature... See my answer.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 14:31
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    Upvote. Anybody who has been paying attention knows there is absolutely no chance of a one-state solution. Nobody involved even wants that. So this part of his speech is totally irrelevant. Not to mention that he was wrong, even.
    – SDsolar
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 16:50
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    @NZKshatriya : All adult citizens can vote, whatever their race and religion. But Palestinians aren't citizens (Arab Israelis, in contrast, are).
    – Ziv
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 21:25
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    Ah. That makes more sense. The whole darned situation over there is enough to make one rip their hair out. There is enough land for both peoples to live. Toss out religion from the process, and it should theoretically be a simple territory negotiation. Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 22:31

All of the answers have said this, but I am going to try and water it down, and have the answer not focus on any nation/state at in particular.

Any purported democracy cannot be a insert description of race/religion/other here state and still be a democracy.

Then again, what type of democracy is meant by Kerry's statement exactly? The same as America? That would be a federal republic/constitutional representative democracy. There are others as well.


Kerry claims that Israel, because of it being Jewish, is not democratic. When in fact it's the only democracy in the entire middle east...

He gets this idea from the fact that the Knesset is overwhelmingly Jewish. Which is of course hardly surprising as the entire population is overwhelmingly Jewish. It's not because non-Jews can't vote or can't have representatives, there just aren't enough of them to have more than a token presence in parliament.

Given his past statements, he wants Israel to just go away, be replaced with another muslim nation, let's call it "the palestinian authority", as in his ideology this would lead to eternal peace in the region (as well as getting him his Nobel peace prize if it happens in the next 2 weeks).

  • 4
    Eh? This statement was clearly in the context of a hypothetical one-state solution, wherein individuals presently in Palestine would be citizens of that one state. The "not enough of them" reference would not at all hold in this hypothetical. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 17:08
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    You have completely misunderstood what he said and are projecting worst-case scenarios that nobody in the Obama administration ever considered, let alone promoted.
    – jalynn2
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 17:45
  • 1
    Did Israel become the only democracy in the "Middle East" before or after it expelled the Palestinians off their land? Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 13:26
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    Cyprus, Turkey, and Lebanon are in the Middle East and are pretty much democracies compared to most countries in the region, despite the latter two having deficiencies. Downvoted because what you state is not what Kerry claimed.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 14:16

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