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Democracy Education in Israel. Raphael Cohen-Almagor Director, Center for Democratic Studies, University of Haifa. Preliminaries. Israel was established as a Jewish democracy Based on Liberal-Democratic values AND Jewish values. Preliminaries. Authoritarian regimes surround it.

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Democracy Education in Israel

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Democracy Education in Israel

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Director, Center for Democratic Studies, University of Haifa

Preliminaries l.jpg


Israel was established as a Jewish democracy

Based on Liberal-Democratic values


Jewish values

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  • Authoritarian regimes surround it.

  • The key factor for its success is its relationships with our neighbours.

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  • Israel survived seven wars and two Palestinian uprisings in 58 years of independence.

  • It is hard to maintain normality under such a hostile environment.

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  • Security expenses exhausts a third of our budget, leaving insufficient resources for the development of other spheres.

  • The constant security threat destroys the tourism industry and preempts external investments essential for economic growth.

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  • Unemployment continues to be significant.

  • Salaries going down in real terms.

  • Welfare benefits are cut.

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Society’s Profile

No shared raison d'être

  • 20% wish to transform democracy into theocracy

  • 20% do not endorse the Zionist ethos

  • 20% of the population are immigrants from the former Soviet Union where no democracy existed

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Background - Schisms

  • In addition, Israel suffers from internal schisms:

  • between Israeli-Palestinians and Israeli-Jews inside the Green Line;

  • between Palestinians under the Palestinian Authority and Jews;

  • between orthodox Jews and secular Jews;

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Background - Schisms

  • between the ideological right and the ideological left,

  • between Sephardim and Ashkenazim;

  • between socialism and capitalism, and

  • between cities and kibbutzim

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Major Problems

  • No shared raison d'être

  • Many schisms

  • Not-so-friendly neighbours

  • Terror

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Major Problems

  • Shaky economy

  • Problematic election system that brings about unstable Knesset and corruption

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Major Problems

  • Racism

  • Culture in which generals are heavily involved in politics during and after service

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  • Our greatest asset is education

  • But it is not in the government’s priorities

  • 20% cut in universities’ budget since 2001

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  • Almost no new hiring

  • Israelis study in the finest universities in the world, and then cannot find a job in their home country

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The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence holds that Israel will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; that it will be based on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace;

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The Declaration of Independence

that it will uphold complete equality of social and political rights to all of its citizens irrespective of religion, race or sex, and that it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.

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Important Remedies

  • Need to strengthen the democratic foundations

  • Promote Democratic Culture

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Democratic Education

  • At present there is no standard democracy education In Israel.

  • There is a great need to equip our youth with understanding of democratic values and principles.

  • For years, the State of Israel has neglected this subject.

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Democratic Education

  • All that exists is citizenship education, taught for two or three years, one hour per week, in which only the formal procedures and mechanisms are explained.

  • The substantive issues of what does it mean to live in a democracy are neglected.

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Current Situation

  • The result is most unfortunate.

  • The majority of people in Israel take democracy for granted, fail to understand the values of democracy, or contest democracy.

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Current Situation

  • Bearing in mind that twenty per cent of the population are immigrants from the former Soviet Union where no democracy existed, and that large segments within Israeli society wish to transform democracy into theocracy, or preach one state for all Jews and Palestinians on the western side of the Jordan River, which would effectively mean the end of Israel as we know it, make us realize how vulnerable Israeli democracy is.

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  • Indeed, repeated public polls have shown that some thirty percent of Israeli citizenry wish to transform democracy into "a government based on strong hand", limit free expression and freedom of the press so as to have "better control".

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To cheer you up…Ufff…

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Center for Democratic Studies


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Center for Democratic Studies

  • The aim of The Haifa Center for Democratic Studies is to promote awareness and understanding of civic culture in democracy.

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Center for Democratic Studies

  • Recognizing the growing need to secure the foundations of democracy and to facilitate conditions for pluralism, the Center establishes a national and international forum for deliberation and discussion.

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Center for Democratic Studies

  • The Center aims to increase public awareness of liberal democratic values: liberty, tolerance, justice, equality and peace

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Center for Democratic Studies

  • Focus is on the role of ethics and justice in all spheres of public life: politics; economy; culture; academy; business; law; media and medicine.

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Center for Democratic Studies

  • Strengthening of active participation in public life, professional ethics, accountability for one’s actions, multiculturalism, diversity, and civic equality

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Center for Democratic Studies

  • The Center also focuses attention upon abuse of power and violation of basic human rights. It encourages open debate on the vital importance of freedom of expression, in its broad sense, in democratic life.

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Center for Democratic Studies

  • On this front the Center sees an urgent need for education on all levels: primary schools, high schools and universities.

  • Develop a broad curriculum of recent history and civics, empowering civic education.

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Democratic Education

  • Liberal Ideology:

  • Putting the Individual at the Center

  • John Locke: society, tolerance, property, pursuit of happiness

  • John Stuart Mill: Harm Principle, Truth principle

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Democratic Education

  • Liberal Ideology:

    Emanuel Kant: Dignity, Respect for Others, Perceiving People as Ends Rather than Means

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Democratic Education

  • Rights:

    Human Rights

    Civic Rights

    Social Rights

    Health Rights

    Minority Rights

    Women Rights

    Rights of Physically and Mentally Challenged People

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Democratic Education

  • Foundations:

  • Liberty

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Democratic Education

  • Basic Liberties:

    Free Expression, including freedom to demonstrate and to picket, free media, artistic freedom, and academic freedom.

    Free Assembly

    Free Association

    Freedom of Religion

    Freedom from Religion

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Democratic Education

  • Foundations:





    -- multiculturalism,

    -- mutual understanding and diversity

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  • Studies of all religions that exist in Israel should be made available.

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Democratic Education

  • Mechanisms:


    Active participation in public life

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Democratic Education

  • The participatory mechanisms need to be strengthened, otherwise the decision-making process will be left in the hands of partisan politicians whose interests do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the people.

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Democratic Education

Through participation and representation:

-- professional ethics

-- accountability for one’s actions

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Democratic Education

  • Comparative Studies:

    Learning from Experience of other democracies:

    The United Kingdom

    The United States


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Democratic Education

  • Weaknesses of the Democratic Regime:

    The Paradox of Tolerance

    The Democratic Catch

    The Tyranny of the Majority

    The Tyranny of the Minority

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  • Democracy should be nurtured and sustained through active education and through constant efforts on the part of the citizenry who care for the society in which they live.

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  • Through education, we should invest our energies to promote liberty, tolerance, equality, justice, peace and multiculturalism in our troubled society.

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Thank you

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