The Threat of the 'Demographic Threat'

There are no democratic means to prevent the Haredim or Arabs from becoming a larger portion of society in the future. Campaigns to reduce the birthrate are no less outrageous than the concepts of population transfer and ethnic cleansing.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Let us share in the happiness of A., a resident of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood of Mea She'arim in Jerusalem who has around 450 descendants. Who cares if they are Haredi? Nor is there any need to mourn the fact that 23 percent of first-graders are Haredi and 22 percent Arabs. This is a natural development in society, and it's doubtful that any legitimate means exists to prevent it. Anyone who views this as a danger is endangering the character of society far more than the tectonic demographic shifts. If we have indeed reached "the end of Zionism," the title of a piece by Nehemia Shtrasler on these pages last Thursday, it is not because of demography but because of geography (and morality).

There is no "demographic threat." There is a threat to society's values, which will be determined not by statistics but by the amount of social justice. Talk of a "demographic threat" is not legitimate. Imagine what would happen if a discussion were held in the United States or Europe on "the worrisome natural growth of the Jews." And who here would dare consider publicly the "fertility tendencies" of the Mizrahim - Jews of Middle Eastern descent. The truly dangerous threat is the discussion itself. It attests to the development in our society of very deep racist norms, cloaked in various ways, against the minority groups among us.

Haredim or Arabs - they are sons and daughters of this land. There are no democratic means to prevent them from becoming a larger portion of society in the future. Campaigns to reduce the birthrate are no less outrageous than the concepts of population transfer and ethnic cleansing.

Both the left and right are afflicted with this lethal racism, which stems from arrogance and fear of the other. The right wing is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the natural increase of the country's Arabs, while at the same time it is trying to annex 3 million Palestinians. The left, equally racist, is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the increase of the ultra-Orthodox population. From certain points of view, the racism against the Haredim is actually more serious: It uses anti-Semitic terminology and lacks the excuse of the national hostility against the Arabs.

The racist discourse has become the norm in Israel and the Jewish world at large. It began with the "danger of assimilation" and "mixed marriages" - a supremely racist term - continued with the "danger of Haredization" and ended with the "peril of the Arab majority." Demographers and geographers constantly publish forecasts and projections, competing among themselves for the title of chief doomsayer. A putrid stench emanates from the talk about "fertility tendencies," and the government's establishment a few years ago of a "Public Council for Demography," whose members included three senior gynecologists, shows the depths of pathology to which we have sunk.

Is it really important whether 3.5 million Palestinians reside in the territories, as the Palestinian Authority claims, or 2.4 million, as an American-Israeli team claims? One way or another, Israel is not granting them civil rights. Occasionally, another million Jews who "disappeared" from the statistics and preferred to obscure their Jewishness are found in the United States. What difference does it make? The future of the Jewish community will be determined far more by its members' degree of involvement than by their number, just as the future of Israeli society will be determined far more by the relations among its communities than the numerical ratio between them.

Israel is an immigrant society mixed with the native-born, a multicultural mosaic with the potential to become a just society. If the Haredim do not do army service or are not productive enough, the responsibility rests with the secular majority, which allows these phenomena. If the Arabs do not contribute enough, or are even hostile to the state, the state bears much responsibility for this. One can criticize the ultra- Orthodox and Arabs, but not enter their wombs. Children - Haredi, secular or Arab - are a joy if they are cared for properly. Their increase stems not from budgeting but from faith and values. Those who want a country to their own liking here must fight for the emergence of an Israeli ethos that is shared by all elements of society, whatever their size, and discard the racist bookkeeping.



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