For 70 years, Israel has been sitting on a contradiction.
From the time its founders inked their Declaration of Independence in the shadow of war against Arab neighbors, Israel defined itself as a Jewish state—one that gave Jews a safe haven after the horrors of the Second World War. But the country’s foundational document signed in May 1948 also promised that Israel would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” It guaranteed “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
Seven decades later, it has become harder than ever for Israel to strike a balance between being a Jewish state and promising equal rights to all. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just tipped the scales—or rather, yanked them—in the direction of promoting the state’s Jewish character. It’s not clear that the equality outlined in the founders’ vision statement remains a goal. It’s certainly far from reality.