Some of the most frequently used party lines of Israel advocates are words that highlight Israel’s diversity. Supporters and defenders of Israel, and Israelis themselves, constantly reference the incredible diversity of the population of the State of Israel when singing its praises. When one visits Israel, it is common to be struck by the image of Jews of every race, every color, of Jews whose religion is marked in their dress and Jews who are veritable fashion plates, indistinguishable from Americans or Europeans. Interspersed in this multitude are a plethora of non-Jews who call Israel home-Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Ba’hai, Orthodox Christians, African refugees, and so many more, are integral parts of the multifaceted society that comprises modern Israel.
While Israel’s strength is in its diversity, many Israelis take issue with their fellow citizens on a variety of issues. Lately, it has been these clashes between various groups that have marked Israeli news. With ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular Israelis clashing over issues including the status of women in society and who should be required to serve in the army, it is clear that the Israeli public has to figure out how to live with the diversity of Israel, not just physical but ideological as well.
The Zionist experiment worked because of its inherent diversity. From the beginning of the formal movement to establish the State of Israel, there were various streams of Zionist thought and ideology. While they clashed at times and contradicted frequently, the multiple forms of Zionism, joined together, created the modern State of Israel. In a vacuum, Religious Zionism, Cultural Zionism, and Labor Zionism, could not have created a functioning nation. Israel’s strength comes from the varying ideologies that served to create it. It is due to the fact that from the beginning, Zionism and the State of Israel have been products of the efforts of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds that Israel is a champion of diversity and democracy today.
It is easy to be intolerant. It would be easy for Israeli government and society to exclude individuals and groups that disagree with its mission or beliefs. But then, Israel would not be able to honestly uphold its democratic character and progressive nature. Promoting Israeli values is made easier by the knowledge of advocates that Israel is the only country to airlift blacks out of Africa into freedom, that Israel is a pioneer in the rights of women and homosexuals, that the Israeli parliament and Supreme Court contain Arabs, Jews, and Christians. While certainly this provides for a great deal of internal turmoil and conflict within the halls of Israeli bureaucracy, and leads to interpersonal conflicts in society in general, it is far preferable to the alternative.
The diversity of Israel is what enables supporters of Israel to hold their heads high when facing the international arena. It is the indisputable fact that Israel has such ethnic, religious, and ideological diversity that flies in the face of the apartheid accusations so often thrown at it. Israel’s diverse composition is the source of its power and its ability to bring together individuals from so many different backgrounds under the banner of Zionist life and expression.
Image by Or Hiltch