The Sicarii of the Third Temple

If Israel's democracy desires life, then it must become a democracy that actively pursues its right to exist.

This week, in which the First and Second Temples were destroyed, it seems we do not need Sicarii to undermine our ability to prevent the destruction of the Third Temple. Instead of bringing them into the fold, our democracy is distributing daggers to various groups that are striving to completely transform the nature of the country.

In its infinite wisdom, the Knesset voted a few days ago to exempt ultra-Orthodox schools from teaching a core curriculum in basic subjects that would provide their pupils with the tools they will need as adults. The executive branch made its own contribution with the Education Ministry's decision to teach Israeli Arab pupils about the Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic; the Palestinians' interpretation of what happened after 1948). This, in an environment in which their community leaders already proudly publish "visionary" documents that do not recognize our right to a Jewish home in our ancestral land. As if there were not enough discrimination against Israeli Arabs to feed their discontent, the Knesset voted last week in favor of a law banning the sale of Jewish National Fund land to non-Jews.

How serious is our predicament already? In this country, three out of every four ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women of working age (25 to 54) are non-employed (i.e. either unemployed or not participating in the labor force). In addition, the rate of non-employment among their spouses, ultra-Orthodox women and Arab men, is double the rate of their respective Jewish non-ultra-Orthodox counterparts.

The demographic direction could not be any clearer. In 1960, 85 percent of primary school pupils were in either national or national-religious school streams, with the remainder in ultra-Orthodox or Arab school streams. This rate fell to 74 percent in 1980 and 54 percent in 2006.

About two weeks ago, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reported that in just five years, their enrollment rate would fall to 50 percent. In other words, as of 2013, today's majority will become a minority in the schools - and within a few years, this will also happen within the general population.

To these numbers one could add some data published by the Israel Defense Forces last week. In 2006, the rate of Israeli men drafted into the army from among all male 18-year-old Israeli residents fell to just 55 percent. The rate of conscription among Jewish men is falling by about one percentage point a year. The writing is on the wall.

There are those who attack the use of demographic data as racist. There is no doubt that some of those who deal with domestic Israeli demographics are indeed racists. But they are a minority. The remainder are simply concerned about the future of the Zionist dream - and this is where the true problem lies.

What is hiding behind the criticism, without this necessarily being made explicit, is the fact that many of those critics view the Zionist ideology itself as racist. This is a primary source of the disagreement, and the time has come to shine a spotlight on the double standard by which Israel is measured. While these same people do not question the legitimate rights of other Western nations to live in democratic countries with an official religion, and the symbol of that religion on the country's flag, they are not willing to afford these same rights to the Jewish people in their historic homeland.

As if this were not enough, the self-righteous criticism does not offer a sustainable proposal that could replace the Zionist narrative. If the future work norms and the national service norms of children will be similar to those of their parents, then the gradually declining minority that will remain will not be able to support either the economy or society, nor will it be able to defend the country. Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran do not distinguish between Jews who are Zionists, ultra-Orthodox or smug anti-Zionists. They also do not get worked up about "visionary" documents by Israeli Arabs.

If Israel's democracy desires life, then it must become a democracy that actively pursues its right to exist. The time has come to collect the daggers and distribute oars. We are all in the same boat.

Dr. Ben-David teaches economics in the Department of Public Policy at Tel-Aviv University.