Smooha 1997

From Projecting Power

Main Argument:

  • The three current categories of democracy are not sufficient to encapsulate all elements of states. The three categories Smooha refers to are Liberal Democracy (majoritarianism), Consociational Democracy, and Herrenvolk Democracy. The author argues that there is a missing fourth type of democracy, Ethnic Democracy.

How Smooha Defines Liberal Democracy:

  • In a liberal democracy, Smooha argues that ethnicity is privatized. The state does not legislate or intervene in ethnic cleavages but instead forces a homogenous nation-state by creating a uniform language, identity, and national institutions for the citizens that inhabit it. Society thrives off of the individual, achievements, personal skills, self-fulfillment, and civil rights.

How Smooha Defines Consociational Democracy:

  • In a consociational democracy ethnicity is a major principle in state organization. Ethnic groups are recognized and granted specific rights such as control over education. Citizens are judged based on merit and given political rights.

How Smooha Defines Herrenvolk Democracy:

  • The term "Herrenvolk" is a German term which translates to "master race". In this democracy, democratic practices are confined to the "master race" and is denied to other groups. The author qualifies, that many agree that this is not democratic and classifies it as "democratic-non-democratic".

How Smooha Defines Ethnic Democracy:

  • In this democracy, a state is identified with an ethnic nation not with citizens. This system combines minority political and civil rights with institutionalized majority control. As an example of an Ethnic State, Smooha points to Malaysia which is known for its ethnic and race-based politics.

Israel as an Ethnic Democracy:

  • Smooha uses Israel as an example of an Ethnic Democracy. The author goes through many previous classifications of Israel that attempt to fit Israel in one of the three previous categories (Liberal, Consociational, Herrenvolk), but it doesn't quite fit neatly. The author argues that these previous classifications fail to take into account the character of Israel as a Jewish State and its commitment to Disapora Jewry as well as its strong division between the Jewish and Arab populations.
  • In Israel, the author argues, there is no separation between religion and nationality, state, or ethnicity for that matter.

De-Ethnicization of the State:

  • According to Smooha, until the 1967 War, much of the Arab population in Israel saw themselves as "Israeli Arabs". After the war they became increasingly Palestinian.
  • There is a thought that Israel is no different than Western countries which have ethnic characteristics, but the author argues that this fails to take into account that the ethnic features are secondary in the West as remnants of the past.

Individual Rights:

  • in 1948 Israeli Arabs were granted freedom of assembly, movement, expression, worship, association, and voting. However, these rights were violated. There are infringements to these rights in three distinct spheres according to Smooha.
  1. Administration: Until 1966 they were under military administration
  2. Citizenship: 1952 Nationality Law prevented a large portion of Arabs from obtaining citizenship and wasn't amended until 1980
  3. Lands: Lands were confiscated due to a series of laws
  • There is no legal recourse for Arab minority to take since the state is permanently in a state of emergency.


The author argues that Israel's majority population will decline to relinquish the power and dominance they hold. The author assumes they will keep Israel as a Jewish democratic state, while incrementally improving the Arab minority's status.


Ethnic democracy is a form of democracy where there exists a dominant majority and minority group in relation to ethnicity. We see that Israel grants Jewish population more privileges than their non-Jewish counterparts which are mostly composed of Palestinian Arab and so it asks if democracy and equality can really coexist with ethnic priority as Israel’s institutional  and legal structures help maintain the dominance of the Jewish population.