Religion in Israeli Society, Politics and Foreign Policy
This conference examined the health of the Israeli state as a self-styled Jewish democracy from a particular perspective, i.e., the subject of religion in Israeli society, politics, and foreign policy. Participants grappled with the question of what it means to be a Jewish State and its implications for Israel's policies. Panelists were asked to engage the question of whether a democracy can be both religious and secular. How does such a state address the inevitable tensions between the overlapping authorities of religion and state? Of course, there are vigorous disagreements among Israelis and supporters of Israel about the role of Judaism in the nation's public life. But Israel, the Jewish State, guarantees religious freedom for all its citizens, and the resurgence of religion around the world demands renewed attention to these issues.
Participants used the following questions to spark discussion: 1. To what extent is Israel a secular democracy, a Jewish State, or both? How well do both elements of Israeli political identity coexist in practice? What are the implications for Israel's relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world? 2. How is religious freedom protected in Israeli law? How has that legal framework evolved over time, and with what consequences for domestic politics and foreign policy? How does religious freedom impact Israel's status as a stable, mature democracy? 3. Is Israel today marked by an increasing religious pluralism? What are the major trends within the Jewish community and across Muslim and Christian minorities? How does religious pluralism impact Israel's democracy, its foreign policy and its international standing? The January 2008 symposium is part of a broader project on the Religious Sources of Foreign Policy within the Luce/SFS Program on Religion and International Affairs.
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