When political language invades the law and political statements masquerade as legal ones, provisions of the law acquire multiple meanings. For laws to be functional, their language must be denotative. Words must correlate with concrete elements of the real world as closely as possible, and actionable legal statements must either create reality or influence it outright. By contrast, political language is connotative. Words have a prospective one-to-many relation with reality, describing a desirable or promised state of affairs. Their influence on behavior is to inspire loyalty. The stack of associations that can be heaped on the back of the meaning of words varies. That pile is much smaller for words like equal, full, and exclusive, than, say, for lucky, dull, and elusive. The definition of the State of Israel as “Jewish and democratic,” which appears in three constitutional provisions, uses two connotative terms uncommonly rich in associations, which renders them legally dysfunctional. Joined together, they are like cheveril gloves that can quickly be turned inside out, making Jewish and democratic mean everything (an endless combination of terms open to interpretation) and nothing (out-and-out contradiction between the two) at the same time.
Cite as: Lanyi, JLL 12 (2023), F1‒F9, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2023.F01
constitutional law, denotative language, connotative language, Jewish and democratic
- Barak, Aharon (2015). “Jewish and Democratic” as an intellectual puzzle: Defining a research agenda. Jewish and Democratic Law: Redrawing Boundaries, Bar-Ilan University. https://youtu.be/CqinG-Qnlhk, 6:20-6:30 (Hebrew).
- Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, March 17, 1992, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Law:_Human_Dignity_and_Liberty.
- EC 11280/02 The Chairman of the Central Elections Committee for the Sixteenth Knesset v. Ahmed Tibi.