Tzipi Livni on Why Israel Needs a Constitution

It's no secret that Israel is suffering from an identity crisis. The term "Jewish state" once seemed a fairly simple synonym for a nation with a Star of David on its flag. Now that term sparks all sorts of debates about demography, democracy, and the future of a country where the minority may soon be the majority. 

The Ideas ReportTzipi Livni stands at the political epicenter of this crisis. She is the head of Kadima, a party that emerged when Ariel Sharon became a few shades too liberal for his fellow Likud members. Today, centrist Kadima is Israel's largest party, but the complicated electoral system means Livni must sit and watch while Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government runs the country. 

For that reason and many others, it's not surprising that Livni is frustrated. During this talk with Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson, she insists that the Israeli people need to figure out who they really are. Isaacson asks if Israel could come up with a constitution at this stage in the game. Livni answers yes, but she qualifies her answer: She says that two of the country's most significant groups -- ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs -- would refuse to participate in its writing.

The complicated nature of this answer only underscores the dilemma Livni describes. Unlike the United States, Israel doesn't have a harmonizing mission or creation story. Its Jewish founders saw its purpose in a myriad of different ways -- as an idealistic socialist experiment, as a pragmatic refuge from genocide, as a placeholder nation waiting for the Messiah to resurrect the real Israel. 

Add to the mix a growing population of Arabs who, unlike their relatives in the territories, hold full Israeli citizenship, and the prospect of a unifying document becomes very tricky indeed. Here, Livni attempts to explain how a constitution written without input from minorities could still protect their rights as citizens.

More video from the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival

Presented by

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Global

Just In