Opinion

The Demographic Demon Rears Its Head Again

'Among the senior officers leading a campaign warning of a 'demographic catastrophe' I see the names of people who failed in their attempts to promote earlier campaigns for withdrawal from territory.'

A billboard campaign that plugs the two-state solution by playing up demographic fears
Gil Cohen-Magen

On the eve of the establishment of the state, Prof. Roberto Baki, who would later found Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, provided David Ben-Gurion with a demographic forecast.

The gist of it was that the goal of achieving a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel was not expected to materialize.  

Baki had joined the pessimists who were demoralizing those bent on proclaiming independence, by predicting apocalyptic scenarios.

Already in 1900, Jewish historian Simon Dubnow argued that even after 100 years there would be no more than half a million Jews in the Land of Israel.

His advice was that Jewish leaders should strive for autonomy somewhere in Europe.

Even the large waves of olim (immigrants) who arrived after the state was established did not dent the demographers’ pessimism.

In 1987, Prof. Arnon Sofer told officers attending the National College of Defense (and the wider public through the media) that “by 2000 Israel will no longer be Jewish.”

Sofer was the college’s “house demographer” for years, influencing generations of senior members of the defense establishment.

At a lecture I gave years ago at the college, I was asked how it was possible to annex Judea and Samaria while retaining a Jewish majority.

I went over the gloomy forecasts made by generations of demographers, all of which had turned out to be false.

Moreover, I added, I’m a Zionist who believes in Aliyah, including from the Soviet Union. I was met with ridicule and scorn.

I remember the words of one participant, who later became a senior officer in military intelligence, subsequently joining the civil service and the government.  

He, as well as another participant who later became a senior Mossad member, said that a belief in immigration was delusional.
Most of the audience supported both these men.

A minority identified with me when I stated that had the founders of Zionism been directed by purely rational considerations, as these two were, the state would not have been born.

I stirred up quite a commotion when I added that these men may have been brave on the battlefield but lack any courage when it comes to fulfilling a vision.

Zionism was a movement that changed reality, I reminded them. Instead of fighting and changing demographic reality, I told them, you’re willing to give in to it.

A year later the gates of the Soviet Union opened. Over a million immigrants changed reality here, not only demographics. At the same time there was a rise in birth rates especially among secular Israeli women.

Fertility reflects optimism and faith in the future. What demographer had predicted such a turn of events?

In the list of senior officers currently leading a campaign warning of a “demographic catastrophe” I see the names of people who failed in their attempts to promote earlier campaigns for withdrawal from territory, including from the Golan Heights.

Now they are jumping on the demographic bandwagon. Indeed, following statistical data, instead of trying to change them, is what drives the “professional thinking” of many members of the defense establishment.

The dismal results of military campaigns led by these people, since the first Lebanon war through Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, highlight the limits of what is achieved with leaders lacking in boldness and vision.

Almost all 250 signatories to the current campaign for territorial withdrawal supported the Oslo Accords. Some of them even took an active part, while still in uniform, in setting up this disastrous arrangement.

A decade later, despite the fact that Oslo slapped them in the face with more than 1,000 dead Israelis, they returned to their old ways and supported the evacuation of the Katif settlements in Gaza.

Newspaper ads by officers belonging to the “Peace and Security Council” promised security and prosperity in the western Negev, as well as in Gaza. Now again, there are senior officers demanding a unilateral flight from Judea and Samaria.

As if since the unilateral evacuation of Gaza there haven’t been 15,000 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel.

How will they defend the majority of Israel’s citizens, spread along the foothills we would evacuate without an agreement (they admit that such an agreement is unattainable at present)?

Probably by using the same methods with which they’ve defended residents of the Negev since 2005. Indeed, peace is too important an issue to be left in the hands of generals.