Here is a tool that both the right and the left use in the same manner, but for opposite purposes: demography. The prophets of demographic doom appear at every political gathering, warning that only a few years from now, Israel will no longer have a Jewish majority. This holds true no matter who is in front of the microphone, be it the geographer Professor Arnon Sofer from Haifa, the demographer Professor Sergio Della Pergola, or the chairman of the geography faculty at Al Aqsa University in Gaza, Dr. Yussuf Kamal Ibrahim. Only a few weeks ago, Ibrahim made the claim that within two years, the Palestinians and the Israel Arabs would manage to overcome the Jews in demographic terms, thanks to their high natural increase.
Those who choose to be alarmed by these predictions see them as the sole key to the future of Zionism and the Jewish people. How? It depends on which side of the political map the alarmist is situated. If from the right, he will see the predictions as decisive proof that birth rates among the Jews should be increased, the gates to Israel should be opened to anyone claiming to be Jewish, including perhaps lost tribes in the rain forests, and that it would be desirable to cause the Palestinians - courteously, of course - to move to neighboring countries.
Rightist demographic alarmists are no less concerned about Arab Israelis. One need look no further than Benjamin Netanyahu's fear-inducing speech at the Herzliya Conference to understand what an amazingly flexible tool demography really is. "Even if the Arabs integrate wonderfully with us," Netanyahu said, "when their numbers reach 35 to 40 percent of the Israeli population, the Jewish state will, at that point, cease to exist."
Netanyahu made it clear that the only solution to the problem was ensuring a Jewish majority in the state of Israel, adding that he was saying this as "a liberal, a democrat and a Zionist Jewish patriot."
These liberal patriots face off against the alarmists from the center - which defines itself as left - in Labor, Shinui and even Meretz. They interpret the same numbers to say the exact opposite, at least at first glance. We have to get out of the territories, they say, and build a high fence along the Green Line, in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state of Israel.
When the demography relates to Israeli Arabs, the center-left alarmists are baffled. Some are even captivated by the perverse idea of transferring parts of the Triangle to the Palestinian state. Transfer? Are you kidding? We're leftists, don't forget.
Facing off against these two camps are two other camps, both in the territories, both having a good laugh. The first camp: Palestinians belonging to the Islamic movements, who prefer that Israel not disengage from the territories, thereby leading to a binational state in which the Arab majority would swallow up the Jewish minority.
And the second camp is settlers that want the same thing, but vice versa. How so? Well, in a fascinating study that was publicized last month in the weekly B'Sheva, Haggai Segal claims that as opposed to the prophecies of demographic doom - "a fundamental and free-of-defeatism analysis proves that the Arabs are still not the majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, nor will they be in the next few years."
Segal partly bases himself on studies conducted by Yaakov Feitelson (Netanyahu's former demographic adviser), Dr. Yitzhak Ravid and Dr. David Passig of Bar-Ilan University, who claims that the majority of pessimistic predictions rely on outdated methodology, and that in fact time is working in Israel's favor. From what he says, the time should get a little encouragement in the form of voluntary transfer, which he claims is in any case happening, but is thwarted by the Shin Bet and the Jordanians.
Faced with this dangerous claim, the left should pick up the demographic gauntlet and throw it in the trash. The aspiration for a Jewish majority sounds like the hallucination of someone locked in his room with his back to the window. Israel is part of the Arab Middle East. Its only reason to exist as an independent and democratic state is not dependent on its Jewish majority, but on the just and moral base that it will formulate vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Israel's Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Which is why Israel should end the occupation, leave all of the territories without delay, and embrace a revamped agenda. This is the argument that the true Zionism should be waging with Segal and his colleagues.
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