What is Israeli Identity?




The present publication is another fruitful outcome of the long partnership cooperation between the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue of the Netanya Academic College and the Jerusalem Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty.
This partnership is based on a shared set of liberal values, which guide both organizations in their confrontation with the challenges Israel is facing internally and externally in the conflict ridden region of the Middle East.
As a German foundation promoting liberal values and principles in Germany and worldwide, one of the objectives of our office in Israel is also to contribute to a reduction of national but also regional tensions and to promote and facilitate bilateral intercultural and cross-border dialogue exploring possible solutions to existing problem areas and conflicts. In these efforts we have found in the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue a wonderful match, which enables us to progress our agenda in the frame of joint cooperation projects.
The price people are paying in this region - due to the ongoing conflict and internal tensions - is high and painfully evident. The headlines reporting about this region give evidence of this circumstance almost on a daily bases. Especially worrisome is also the gradual erosion of civic and liberal values and at the same time the rise of fundamentalist groups as a consequence of the ongoing conflict situation. We Liberals believe that strengthening dialogue between the conflicting
and estranged sides is worthwhile, as it will in the long run foster stability and as such also strengthen democratic values. Stability in conjunction with the enforcement of principles of liberal democracy will finally bring prosperity and progress to the people.
Israel's challenges are manifold. Next to the notorious Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israel is struggling with tensions stemming from numerous internal divides in its heterogeneous society. One of them is the divide between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority population. Due to its complexity this problem area has been neglected over decades. However, outbreaks of violent clashes and a growing estrangement have demonstrated how pressing this problem is and how badly it needs to be addressed.
The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue in conjunction with the Jerusalem office of the FNF has therefore decided to address this Jewish-Arabic divide, to identify and analyze the different factors influencing and dominating these relations and to look for ways how to improve and stabilize these relations and also explore the hiding potentials these relations may bare. The last two joint research studies ”The Influence of the Establishment of a Palestinian State on Israeli Arabs” and the “Bedouins in the Negev – a Strategic Challenge for Israel” hence were devoted to this joint effort
and followed the liberal approach and ideals of participation and integration, engaging researchers from both communities in a professional dialogue on these issues.
The present research study is in a way a logical consequence of the two previous research studies. Having analyzed the roots and expressions of the divide between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority groups, this process has finally also lead us to the question, what is on the other side of the coin? What is the common denominator of Israeli citizenship? What is the clue that holds the different population groups in Israel together, at least to that extent that it enables the country despite the many challenges to uphold a democratic system and a very active civil society?
In fact, even sixty six years after the establishment of the State of Israel the question of its identity is still on the agenda lacking a common understanding. When asking Israelis the question of their own identity and the identity of their state one will get a multitude of different answers in return,and this even within the different population groups.
In the end the discussion on identity is also a discussion about common values and a common vision for the future. A public discourse in this spirit is not only important for Israel but also may bring about ideas to overcome and master some of the tensions existing along the Jewish Arab divide but also along the other internal divides existing in Israel.
The research papers in this booklet are an attempt to tackle these controversial issues in the hope that an inclusive and constrctive public discourse might finally follow.
We would like to thank our partners from the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue for the continuous cooperation and complement them for the professional completion and monitoring of this important research study.


Anne Cohen-Koehler
Head of the Israeli Desk