Israel’s March 17 election is two years earlier than it should be, thanks to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government in December. Contributing to the breakup was an impassioned debate over whether a stronger legal emphasis on the country’s Jewish character would ultimately make Israel less democratic.
In Israel’s early years, leaders hoped that becoming Israeli would unite the nation’s diverse population, which now includes Jews of eastern European origin, of Middle Eastern descent and, more recently, from Africa; secular liberals; right-wing West Bank settlers; ultra-Orthodox of many sects and large numbers of Russians not recognized as Jewish by government rabbis. Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs; many feel loyal to both Israel and their Palestinian relatives.
All these individuals and groups have their own definitions of what it means to be Israeli. While more than three-fourths of Jewish citizens say they are proud to be Israeli, the number has been dropping in recent years, according to pollster Tamar Herman, with the Israel Democracy Institute.
Photo credit: Emily Harris/NPR
Top: Daniella Weiss is a prominent West Bank settler who believes the entire territory should be recognized as part of Israel. Now a grandmother of 18, her activism at times leads her into conflict with Israeli authorities.
Left: Nava Hefetz directs the education program of Rabbis for Human Rights and is a strong advocate of studying the country’s founding laws that promise equal rights for all. She is a Reform rabbi in a country dominated by the Orthodox rabbinate. ‘I’m not recognized by the state,’ she says.
Right: Uzzi Ornan, 91, built bombs to fight the British who ruled before Israel gained statehood in 1948. He has since battled the state of Israel, saying he should be identified as ‘Israeli’ and not as ‘Jewish’ on official documents. A nation, he says is ‘one territory, one people, everyone who lives here.’