Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin opened the Independence Day celebrations with a speech that extolled Israel's ability to maintain a Jewish democracy despite a hodgepodge of contradictory world views.
"In the face of what is happening all around us," he said, "let us not look askance at what we have accomplished. Despite those who libel and attack us, despite the short-sighted and scant of vision, Israel in 2011 is a Jewish and democratic state that shines proudly in the heart of an oppressive and cruel Middle East.
"The Israeli democracy has withstood hard and painful tests and weathered them all. We know well that our fortitude is not to be taken for granted. This is a complex and variegated society, saturated with tensions and overburdened with contrasting and contradictory world views. In this reality, the existence of a strong, functioning democratic society is an accomplishment whose enormity cannot be denied; it is a wonder that has no precedent."
Rivlin spoke out against the phenomenon of "boycotts and letters" and said that some Israelis have a problem with "the mosaic" that is Israel. "In the course of the past year our public sphere has been stained with recurring attempts to neuter the vibrant debate that goes on among us, either by silencing some of the voices that are heard, or by removing some of the groups from within it. This is true of boycotts upon Israelis who live on 'the wrong side' of the map and letters that decree excommunication, masked as Halachic decrees; and it is true of hurtful legislative moves and demagogic incitement for and against the hareidi-religious.
"It is difficult for us to live in a society where, as of yet, not everyone goes to the army. It is more pleasant to live in a homogeneous society that speaks with one voice, of a single 'diplomatic horizon'. It is easier in a state where everyone sings HaTikvah with sparkling eyes and a stirring Jewish soul." But we must know that "we will never be unified in our beliefs, and we must not ask for this. It is time to say farewell - for real, this time - to that naive expectation for one Israeliness, born of a melting pot."
"Our ability to leave the gates of Israeliness open and wide enough for the rainbow of views and religions, despite the price this involves, is the old-and-new Zionist challenge. The Israel of boycotts and excommunications, of vitriol and letters, marches toward a dead end. No end of the spectrum, neither left nor right, deserves a boycott. Neither side deserves excommunication."
Video: Opening of the Independence Day celebrations (Hebrew)