As the world's only Jewish state, Israel approaches all issues from a unique historical perspective. The State of Israel that formally came into being at the termination of the British Mandate in May 1948 was born of centuries of Jewish heritage and tradition that continue to affect all aspects of its national life. Israel recalls a Jewish history replete with episodes of persecution and clashes with outside forces seeking to overrun its homeland and to defeat and exile its people. The Jewish state emerged from an unparalleled confluence of forces in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including widespread anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and two World Wars and their aftermaths.
Israel sees itself as having a number of interrelated missions: to preserve its independence and territorial integrity; to maintain its Jewish character (however imprecisely defined) and its links to Jews throughout the world; and to serve as a spiritual center, protector, and haven for Judaism's persecuted numbers. Israel's commitment to virtually unrestricted Jewish immigration is enshrined in its Declaration of Independence and the Law of Return and has been reinforced by successive governments, with overwhelming support in the Knesset and from its Jewish population. It has been implemented almost without regard to the economic costs and social dislocations caused by a rapid and massive population influx.
Despite Jewish-Zionist successes in gaining British government support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, as expressed in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, no independent political