The Israeli case seems worth exploring on several counts. Firstly, on the face of it, it seems ironic that Jews, who could maintain their identity intact during 2,000 years of exile and dispersion among numerous nations, should lose sight of it just when they have finally returned to their original homeland and set up an independent polity. Secondly, most theories of national identity posit a strong link between it and the territory within which people identify themselves as members of a separate entity.l Jewish history refutes this postulate, while the changes in Israeli identity articulation lend some support to it: Jews maintained a firm identity without a territory, while Israelis changed theirs as their territory contracted or expanded. Thirdly, the Israeli case lends support to recent citizenship theory and the communitarianist thesis. The latter argue that, since democracies depend more on consent and less on coercion than other forms of government, compliance with laws and norms depends more on a consensus regarding the core values from which the laws and norms are derived. In contrast to views, according to which collective identities are being obliterated in postmodern societies, the above theories
reassert the need in democratic societies for a basic consensus of citizens regarding their distinct identity.2 Just because Western democracies are pluralistic, they would easily disintegrate unless some basic common values overrode the different views and values held by their multiple groups. As Smith3 has noted, such values cannot be freely invented. Rather, they must rely on the culture of the society, that is, they are a reinterpretation of its past values and symbols to fit present circumstances and needs. To be more specific, any society, and a pluralistic one in particular, can be visualized as consisting of numerous concentric circles, each of them surrounding a decreasing number of groups. A circle represents the common denominator, those norms and values which members of the groups encompassed share and which distinguish them from groups outside the circle. The more complex the society, the greater the number of circles and the more basic is the common denominator which delineates the boundaries of the entire society vis-a-vis other ones. It follows that when consensus on the core values and norms breaks down, the society splinters into its various constituent groups and these, again, may disintegrate into yet smaller ones. This is precisely the process which Israel has begun to undergo in the past five years.