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Seal of State of Israel

ISRAELI SOCIETY

Modern Israel is an open, democratic, multi-racial society. The essence of Israeli society is the "Law of Return," legislation enacted in 1950 that grants every Jew the right to return to Israel and, upon entry, to automatically become an Israeli citizen. The country's raison d'etre is the "ingathering of the exiles" and providing safe haven and shelter to all Jews who need it. Members of other faith communities may apply for Israeli citizenship as they would in any other country.

Israel is home to a widely diverse population from many ethnic, religious, cultural, political and social backgrounds. Over half of its Jewish population is native-born with the rest from 102 different countries around the world. Israel's beautiful and rich mosaic contributes to the vibrancy and vitality of Israeli society. It also poses challenges to achieving peaceful coexistence among Jews in Israel.

Between 1948 and 1951 alone, 688,000 immigrants came to Israel, doubling the existing population. In the early years of the state, most immigrants came to Israel fleeing persecution; Holocaust survivors came from post-war Europe as well as Jews escaping persecution in Arab and Muslim countries. These immigrants brought with them different political and cultural traditions ranging from democracy to dictatorships, equality between the sexes to a patriarchal society.

For most of its history, Israel was defending its very physical existence and the elements binding all Jews shared history, religion and commitment to the survival and stability of the Jewish state superseded the divisions among Jews. Today, as Israel is forging peace with its neighbors, the elements dividing Jews are resurfacing in Israeli society. Furthermore, in Israel there is no clear separation of religion and state. In the early years of the state, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion achieved what has become known as the "status quo" regarding many religious matters. In recent years, the status quo has been challenged and the issue of religious pluralism in particular has caused controversy and strife.

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