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Israel’s Changing Demographics

If the historical goal of the state of Israel is to provide the world’s Jews a secure national home, a place of refugee in a world of real or potential anti-Semitism, it seems to have failed. It has failed not because this writer says so, but because an increasing number of its own Jewish citizens say so. There have been studies originating both in Israel and abroad that show “as many as half of the Jews living in Israel will consider leaving …if in the next few years the current political and social trends continue.” This finding is in addition to the fact that yerida, or emigration out of Israel, has long been running at higher numbers than aliyah, or immigration into the country. “According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, as of 2005, 650,000 Israelis have left the country for over one year and not returned.” The great majority of these were Jews. In addition, polls show that at least 60% and as high as 80% of remaining Israeli Jews “sympathize with those who leave the country.”

Among those who stay, there is the conviction that the safe thing is to have a second passport issued by the United States or a European country. As the Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy puts it, “if our forefathers dreamt of an Israeli passport, there are those among us who are now dreaming of a foreign passport.” At present the United States has issued over half a million passports to Israelis and a quarter million additional applications are pending. Germany runs second with 100,000 passports given to Israeli Jews and 7,000 new ones issued yearly. Why the scramble for foreign passports? Well, according to Levy, “the excuses are strange and diverse, but at the base of them all are unease and anxiety, both personal and national. The foreign passport has become an insurance policy against a rainy day. It turns out there are more and more Israelis who are thinking that day may eventually come.”

There are two prevailing explanations for this phenomenon. The first is that it reflects the conviction that the safe haven that Zionism was suppose to create is not safe at all. This is the position taken by the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick. “The danger for the Jewish state is that, given the choice between convincing Middle Easterners that Israel can be a good neighbor and leaving the neighborhood, more and more Israelis are attracted to the latter….The logically extreme expression of escape is, of course, emigration.” Lustick is supported by Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard University who suggests that “the Zionist ideal is losing hold within Israel itself” because the Israeli government “endlessly delays the [peace] process.” The second explanation is that suggested by the editors of the Jerusalem Post who cite interviews with “hundreds of Israeli expats in North America.” Their conclusion is that when Israelis go abroad and stay, it is due to economic, and not political or security reasons.

Actually, the explanation offered by the Jerusalem Post is suspect. If the desire to emigrate is motivated mainly by economics, the demand for second passports would not be necessary. Israelis travel freely in the United States and the economic interconnections between the two countries make it relatively easy for Israeli Jews to get “green cards” to stay and work. This is probably true in some other parts of the West as well, as long as you are not tagged as a war criminal. However, when you combine the growth in emigration with the desire for foreign passports you get a different sort of message. Planning to possibly emigrate on a foreign passport implies that there are a number of Israelis who foresee the demise of the state. In other words, they foresee a day when the Israeli passport will be worthless. Given the fact that emigration is something of an ideological sin for Zionists, it is no surprise that some of the emigrants tell pollsters their motivation is economic. It sounds better. But in the end it hardly matters, leaving for whatever reason is the equivalent of voting with your feet.

Not Without Its Costs

This trend is no doubt encouraging to the Palestinians and their supporters, but it is not without its costs. If we assume no change and project this development into the future, say twenty years or so, what will Jewish Israel look like?

First – The ratio of Jews to Israeli Arabs within the Green Line will certainly shrink. That is, the Arab population, which already has a higher birth rate than the Jewish one, will grow all the more rapidly, making up an increasing percentage of the population. Factor in the Occupied Territories and there will be more Palestinians than Jews. One can, of course, say that this is as it should be. The notion that Palestine must have a Jewish majority has always been a perverse one. Nonetheless, as a consequence of the changing demographics, it is almost certain that Palestinian-Jewish Israeli relations, which have never been good, will get rapidly and proportionately worse. Why so? The second point answers this question.

Second – Of the Jews who remain in Israel, an increasing percentage will be ideological fanatics. Take a look at the religiously motivated, armed and aggressive settlers on the West Bank and then imagine them, along with those in black hats and pa’ot (unshaven sideburns), as making up 60 or 70% of the Jewish population. That is a “Masada” majority who will be willing to “defend” their way of life in all of Palestine not due to patriotic propaganda, but out of real racial conviction and religious zeal.

Third – The other remaining Jews, the ones not necessarily fanatical, will be mostly docile. These are the ones who can not get the foreign passports, who have no relatives abroad to vouch for them, and not enough resources to bankroll a new start even if they could find another place to go. They will follow what orders they are given by their increasingly fanatical government for the sake of their jobs, their pensions, to put bread on the table, because their peers are doing so, etc.

Fourth – Ideological fanatics confronting their worse nightmare, in this case the “demographic holocaust,”are not going to be devotees of democracy and human rights. Israel’s government will become more and more dictatorial. We can already see this in today’s Israel where the Knesset, presently controlled by ideological parties, is in the process of passing anti-democratic laws. This is may be just the beginning. In a population shorn of its middle class, there will be no real political opposition and the right-wing parties will become ever more aggressive against what they regard as anti-Zionist elements within the Jewish population. Organizations such as B’tselem, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Committee Against Home Demolitions, and the like will be shut down. Supporters of these groups will become silent or go into exile, as will the small number of Israeli academics who now stand against government policy. If they do not, they will likely end up in jail.

This, of course, is just conjecture. However, it is reasonable conjecture. And so we really ought to think about this. In today’s Israel you can still tell the difference between those Jewish Israelis who want a just and humane settlement with the Palestinians and those who do not. If things keep going as they are now there will come a time when it will be much harder to make that distinction. In other words, when the everyday man and women just looking for economic or physical safety, just looking for a better place to raise their kids, packs up and leaves, the “neutral zone” of everyday life vanishes with them. Society becomes a place where, as George Bush once put it, you’re with us or against us. And, if to be with us means to be a racist, a supporter of the God chosen people and an active enemy of the inferior and doomed Amalekites, then that is how everyone still in residence will behave.

When and if that time comes, how are we on the outside, and especially those of us who are Jews, going to react to an Israel where those who seek a just peace are either silenced, imprisoned or exiled? What do you do with a society where everyone must support injustice or be themselves condemned as traitors or criminals? Under these circumstances how do you tell the difference between the innocent and the guilty?

This is not a potential scenario unique to Israel’s situation. It has been played out before. The difference is that before the Jews were among the victims and not victimizers. This is what happens when any group gives itself over to a doctrine, be it racial, religious or political, which destroys all notions of common humanity. That is what the prevailing ideology of Israel has done. And, if history remains consistent, as Zionism “purifies” itself, gets rid of all those who would question it or compromise it, it must take its remaining adherents into the realm of unadorned horror. We should all be afraid of this. Very afraid.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA.

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Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

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