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Though deeply fractured along religious, ethnic, linguistic, and racial lines, Israeli society nevertheless coheres. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which is the presence of external threats as well as the existence of democratic institutions for mediating disputes. Another source of unity, however, is what is popularly known as Israeliness.
Israeliness describes a set of shared experiences—eating falafel, say, or visiting a health clinic. Israel is also a family country, and love of family is common to all of Israel’s ethnic and religious communities. Yet the but the definition of Israeliness has also proved malleable Once focused almost exclusively on the established Ashkenazi elite, Israeliness has come to embrace—and in many ways, prefer—the Mizrachi culture associated with the middle and working class. The Druze and Circassians, once peripheral to the Israeli story, have now been enshrined at its core. Haredim who previously spoke only Yiddish now converse in colloquial Hebrew while Israeli Arabic has become peppered with Hebrew expressions and slang. Israeliness has the power to penetrate.
We must augment that power. It is Israel’s fundamental interest to foster a sense of belonging. This can be achieved through many ways, some of them discussed in greater detail below, while respecting ethnic and religious diversity. They include a national campaign, “I am an Israeli,” conducted through school texts, the media, and popular culture, to identify and strengthen those aspects of Israeli life that unite us. It includes inter-community dialogues and projects backed by the state and certified NGOs. It includes truly universal national service and greater representation for minorities in government agencies. And it means broadening the Israeli story to include the maximum number of citizens.
Being the nation-state of the Jewish people and also the state of all of its people is not, as often portrayed, a contradiction. Many nation-states have minorities that are fiercely patriotic. By contrast, the failure to expand and strengthen Israeli identity will weaken the state’s ability to defend itself and preserve its technological edge. And it will save Israel from the fate of the crusader kingdoms to which our enemies often compare
us, that dissolved into the surrounding cultures. Success means that Israel can not only cohere but remain a model of reconciling diversity with solidarity, a society respectful of differences but united around an inclusive Israeliness.
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