At its core, Israel seeks to remain a democratic and majority-Jewish state where civil liberties are preserved alongside all matters of national security. Israeli identity and society have deep taproots that include the Jewish past, the bible, the intent to return to an ancient homeland, resistance against precarious fates, and reliance upon one another.
Embedded in Zionism, and remaining a core feature in Israel today, is a yearning to be creative, to make new lives and defend Zionist initiatives (the kibbutz, the “new Jew,” the pioneer, and self-defense). Experimenting with today and tomorrow remains firmly planted in a foundational past. Since Zionism’s inception, Jews immigrated from multiple geographic origins. They reassembled their unique cultural habits, political philosophies, economic outlooks, and attitudes toward religious practice into a new setting. The variations of Zionism under Herzl were as numerous as the definitions of “Israeliness” are today. Rather than evolving a one size fits all Israeli identity and society, Israelis have chosen to keep their individual outlooks and practices, blending them where appropriate under the broader umbrella of defending their collective, as citizens in a Jewish state.
Many Israelis define themselves and their society according to a war in which they fought. Internally, Israelis still cope with refining the role of religion in state, gender issues, and the place of non-Jews, Arabs, and Druze in society. Since Israel remains demographically and physically small, external factors enhance or threaten Israel’s future, constantly refining its identity and society. Among many, these external factors include changing relationships with neighbors near and afar, the Palestinians, the evolving international economic and technological order, connections with opinionated diaspora Jewish communities, and with the people and leaders of many regions of the world, particularly the United States and Europe. With more than three-quarters of a million Israelis living permanently abroad, these Israelis cope with sustaining an Israeli identity for themselves and their children, while seeking to retain an emotional relationship to the state and its people.
Israeli identity and society are not easily defined. Neither have remained fossilized over time. Into the future, neither are likely to be uniform or precisely predictable. Initiating and coping with change remain integral to Israel’s population; it will likely remain dynamic, adaptive, and reactive. Israel is only in its sixth decade. Except for the broad premise of defending a majority Jewish state, its identity and society remain engagingly fluid.