Israel is not a state like all other states. The recent treatment it has received at the United Nations where it was condemned for daring to defend itself from terrorist attacks shows to any decent person that despite the best hopes and dreams of secular Zionism, Israel has become and firmly remains the "Jew" amongst the countries of the world.
If that is the case, then Israel needs to play to its strength. Unlike any other country in the world, Israel cannot just exist because it exists. Such a reason for political continuance is fine for Canada, Britain, Egypt and China. Israel, however, seems to need to constantly justify its ongoing existence.
Is it as a secular democratic state in the Middle East? There hardly seems to be a point to that. After all, no other state in the region fits that model and although it's nice to know there's one country where freedom of religion, speech and the press ranks high on the list of priorities, few in the world would say that it was absolutely necessary for it to be there.
Is it as a lifeboat for Jews around the world? Florida would probably do the job just as well and with less headaches.
Israel's only purpose to continue as a Jewish state and for that to be, it needs to practice Jewish values. Unfortunately over the past few decades the worst in Jewish values has convinced most non-religious (and quite a few religious) folks in the Jewish world that the worst thing for Israel is a role for religion in the public square.
However, this does not mean that there should be an absolute separation of shul and state. In fact, such a separation would be disasterous for a country that could not survive without a special reason.
That's why I must disagree with this article by Uri Regev. On one hand, he raises relevant issues:
Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens cannot marry in Israel due to state law, including numerous Russian olim, all non-Orthodox converts to Judaism and native-born Israeli Jews who want an egalitarian marriage ceremony. Israeli democracy is enlightened and progressive in most respects, but in the area of religious freedom it lags all Western democracies.
On the other hand, his solution is one that can only hurt Israel. Without Judaism at its core, Israeli culture cannot survive. After all, the world does not need and hardly wants to have around "the Israeli". What's more, in many countries like those in Asia's far east where secular Israelis go after finishing their army experience, they have created a reputation so toxic that they have become unwelcome in many places. For the first time, justified Jew hatred exists in many parts of Asia based on the behaviour of Jews detached from the Torah.
That's not to say that the behaviour of many Jews who consider themselves attached to the Torah is much better. As Naomi Ragen's recent article on mehadrin buses notes, there are too many in our community who are primitive and barbaric while insisting that they are the ideal of the Torah lifestyle. Their existence has given Torah and religion a bad name in Israel, something no thoughtful person can debate.
Despite that, Israel needs Judaism to survive. Surrounded as it is by enemies who are convinced of the lies their leaders have told them about a mythical state and people that never really existed, Israel's moral and courage to continue must be based on its genuine claim to the land. We are not in Israel because we had nowhere else to go in 1948. We are not in Israel because we thought the land was available. We are in Israel because we are Jews and Israel is the land of the Jews and we know that because the Torah tells us so. To cut Jews off from that leaves no real reason to fight for this particular piece of real estate.
What is needed then is religious leadership that can bring halacha into the modern arena and ensure a practice of Yehadut that is compassionate instead of fanatic and that can show the people the beauty of a Torah lifestyle which they can feel proud of. While it is a lot to hope for, it is still a goal we must strive for daily.