Carmon, founder and president of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), which has called for democratic reforms in Israel since 1991, points out that Israel lacks a constitution delineating the core principles of its government. Instead, it has cobbled together a series of "Basic Laws" that create the legal architecture for governance.
Carmon finds this insufficient, arguing in particular that the Jewish state lacks both a clear vision for the role of religion and a true separation of religion and state. His central argument is that the "orthodox monopoly over the definitions and characteristics of the state's Jewishness" is unhealthy. This is the ultimate "Zionist deficit."
Admittedly, over the decades, Israel's religious right has gained ground, largely because of its role in helping center-right and center-left coalitions reach a majority of sixty-one Knesset seats. But the tug-of-war between secular and orthodox Jews is far from over.
Also, it is worth recalling that Israel's government came into being under extreme circumstances and has always operated under duress. Amid this battle for survival, certain key questions have been put aside. Carmon acknowledges this reality but insists that the end result is a "sputtering national effort to build a single, unified people."
Carmon argues that because the Jewish people for centuries had no experience in self-government, they lack the tools to run a government properly; for him, exile remains "a state of mind" for Jews. He also asserts that popular attitudes toward Arabs show that the "principles of inclusion expressed in Israel's Declaration of Independence have been eroded in Israel." The author disregards that the Arab population has long called for ending the country's Jewish nature. That Israel continues scrupulously to consider their rights is nothing short of remarkable.
Building Democracy on Sand's many anecdotes of the author's life, which break up his heavy political theory, make the book more readable. But the unforgiving analysis of the Middle East's only functioning democracy still makes the book's central arguments difficult to accept. Perhaps it is worth remembering that the word "Israel" literally means "wrestles with God."