Making the case for the Citizenship Law, Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid stated that it should be supported because it "aimed at ensuring Israel’s Jewish majority." In response, Carolina Landsmann wrote in Haaretz on July 10 that "a country that strives to deny a minority any possibility of becoming a majority, whether by force of arms or through the power of law, isn’t a democracy."
This contention makes no sense.
Why should the Jewish state not do what it can legally do to maintain a Jewish majority? And what in heaven’s name has happened to the Zionist left? Why do so many of its champions find it difficult to affirm what is so clearly sensible and right?
Students of Israel and Zionism know that demography is destiny.
That Zionism, now and in the past, has always been about creating a democratic state with a Jewish majority. That the State of Israel can, and must, take appropriate steps to assure that a stable Jewish majority is maintained. That taking such steps, and being honest about your intentions, need not be inconsistent with democratic principles or with the ideals of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. And that the loss of a Jewish majority means the end of Zionism and the disappearance of the State of Israel.
And not only that. The premise of Zionism is that there are many Jews who desperately want to live among other Jews in a majority-Jewish state. Their eagerness is understandable, and they make no apologies for this fact. They are grateful that the State of Israel, after millennia of Jewish exile, finally enables them to do so.
Israel, they remind us, was created to promote the religion, civilization and culture of the Jewish people and its dominant Jewish majority. Thank God, they say, that Israel is the one place where it is non-Jews who must struggle with the problems of being a minority—even as they are assured by Israeli law, at least in theory, of civil equality and democratic rights.
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It is true, of course, as Landsmann states, that Israel must not use "force of arms" to suppress the number of its Arab citizens. To state the obvious, to forcibly transfer Arab citizens out of the country would be a violation of democratic norms and international law, not to mention Jewish values and tradition. It would be a repudiation of everything that Zionism stands for and the principles that it represents.
But assuring a Jewish majority by adopting laws and policies that are consistent with democratic governance is an altogether different matter. It is both acceptable and desirable.
Absent a Jewish majority, would Israel continue to provide no-questions-asked refuge to Jews facing danger and distress in countries around the globe? Almost certainly not; a non-Jewish majority would undoubtedly decide otherwise.
Absent a Jewish majority, would Israel remain the one country in the world where Jewish holidays provide the rhythm of the calendar and where Jews openly apply Jewish values and the Jewish spirit to every aspect of life? Unlikely.
And it was precisely for these reasons that Zionism came into being in the first place.
Having said all of this, Landsmann was right to be critical of Lapid, and right that the Citizenship Law deserved to be defeated. But not for the reasons stated.
The provisions of the Citizenship Law, which was intended to limit the immigration to Israel of Arabs from the territories married to Israeli Arabs, affected only 10,000 to 15,000 people, nowhere near enough to have any impact on the demographic balance. And Israel’s Arab citizens offered many convincing reasons why the law should be defeated or amended.
In other words, Lapid was right to assert the vital importance to Israel of preserving a secure Jewish majority, but wrong to suggest that renewing the Citizenship Law was a factor of any significance in doing so.
Still, I was pleased to see Lapid raise demographic questions at a time when both the Zionist right and the Zionist left have lost their way on an issue that stands at the very heart of Israel’s purpose and being.
The Zionist right has responded to the demographic problem with thuggery and denial. For more than 40 years, it has built settlement after settlement, and even worse, illegal outpost after illegal outpost.
While the settlements might conceivably remain in Israel in some version of a two-state solution, the more than 140 illegal outposts, scattered throughout the territories, make any division of the land less and less likely. And the probable outcome then becomes a single bi-national state, with an Arab majority.
If Lapid really cares about a Jewish majority, where was he when his government surrendered on Evyatar? Yet again, settler lawbreakers seized private land, defied the security concerns of the IDF, and bent the entire government apparatus of the Jewish state to their will. No government body gave approval for this act of stealth and deception; only in Israel are towns constructed not by the directive of government planners but by the actions of messianic settlers, answering only to their rabbis and to God.
If the outpost remains, and it probably will, it will be yet another victory for the creeping annexationism that is eating Zionism alive.
Please, Mr. Lapid, until you are prepared to evacuate the Evyatars of Judea and Samaria and take on the piracy of the settler fanatics, spare us the sermons on ensuring Israel’s Jewish majority.
And finally, what of the Zionist left, which at one time could be counted on to lead the fight for a Jewish majority in a Jewish and democratic Israel?
It is a long and complicated story, but the heart of the matter is that in both Israel and the Diaspora, the Zionist left is wavering. Swayed by Israel’s Arab parties, post-Zionist thinking, revulsion at blood-and-soil nationalism, and sincere commitment to universalistic values, Zionists on the left—like their counterparts on the right—have also begun speaking the language of a single state with a Jewish minority, often obscured by the rhetoric of a "Jewish-Arab confederation."
But such a confederation is a pipedream and will happen when hell freezes over.
Until then, the only possible solution, as unlikely as it now seems, must be pieced together from the actual realities on the ground. And that means a Jewish-majority state, consisting of a particular people—the Jewish people; a particular culture—Jewish culture; and a segment of a particular land—Israel/Palestine.
And that also means a Palestinian-majority state, consisting of a particular people—the Palestinian people; a particular culture—Palestinian culture; and a different segment of that same land—Israel/Palestine. Each state will have minorities, of course, but the dominant majority will set the political and cultural tone of public life.
This configuration will not be perfect. Getting there will not be easy. And it may take many years for the two-state arrangement to be constructed. But left and right take note: in the meantime, the job of Jews is to work for a separation of peoples that will make two states possible, and for a demographic reality that will leave the Jews as a clear, uncontested majority in their part of Israel/Palestine.
I repeat: We Jews want a state of our own, where the Jews, a secure and confident majority, will call the shots, govern democratically, and live in peace with our neighbors. That is what Zionism is. And in the final analysis, binational, one-state schemes and fantasies will give way to the compelling logic of Zionist principles.
Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Twitter: @EricYoffie