Oct 21st 2013

“The Jewish State Of Israel”

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

As the Israelis and Palestinians are presently negotiating in an effort to end a nearly seven decades-old conflict, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made recognition of the Jewish right to a homeland in Israel “the most important key to solving the conflict.” The 1947 UN Partition Plan called for the establishment of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state and this fact was not lost to the 160 countries that have since recognized Israel, but none were required to recognize it by name as the Jewish state. Why, then, is Netanyahu making this requirement sine qua non to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians?

There is no doubt that the Jewish right to a homeland in Israel is central to preserving the Jewish national identity of the state and providing a safe and secure haven for the Jews to ensure their survival.

The Jewish people have for millennia endured persecution, discrimination, and expulsions, culminating in the unimaginably horrific Nazi Holocaust. Only when seen in the context of survival itself is one able to grasp why the vast majority of Jews in and outside Israel are committed to the survival of the state and its Jewish identity.

That said, the irony is that current and previous Israeli governments have regularly embraced policies and taken measures that directly undermined any prospect of preserving Israel as the state for the Jewish people.

The problem here is while a sustainable Jewish majority is central to permanently securing that objective, there are many indicators that clearly demonstrate the diminishing Jewish majority in Israel, and little is being done by Netanyahu to reverse the trend.

Instead, Netanyahu is demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as if such recognition will eternally guarantee the national identity of the state regardless of the changing demographic composition of Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Writing in Commentary magazine in May 2009, historian Michael B. Oren, who shortly thereafter became Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, identified “the Arab demographic threat” as one of seven “existential threats” facing the existence of Israel.

“Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent,” wrote Oren. “Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. If it chooses democracy, then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist.”

Here are the startling demographic trends that if continued unchecked will reduce Israeli Jews to a minority and endanger the very purpose why Israel was created.

First, the Arab citizens of Israel constituted 20.7% of the total population in 2012. In 2011, the birth rate among Israeli Jews was 3.0 births per woman verses 4.38 per Palestinian woman. Some reports state that the Israeli Arab population will grow from the current number of 1.658 million to 2.4 million by the year 2030. This could represent nearly one quarter of the Israeli population.

Ironically, in his speech in 2003 at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Netanyahu spoke of the demographic threat. “We have a demographic problem,” he said, “but it lies not with the Palestinian Arabs, but with the Israeli Arabs [who will remain Israeli citizens].”

He continued to say, “If Israel’s Arabs become well integrated and reach 35-45 percent of the population, there will no longer be a Jewish state [emphasis added].” Therefore, a policy is needed that will balance the two. Paradoxically, Netanyahu’s policy is in fact gradually realizing his own ominous prediction.

Second, there is an alarming number of Israelis who are emigrating from Israel. Statistics show that up to one million Israelis (13 percent of the population) are living abroad, and very few are planning to return to Israel.

Many have left because they are seeking better job opportunities; others because they are weary of the continuing conflict with the Palestinians. Many have concerns about security, while others flatly admit that they want to shield their children from compulsory military service.

Third, immigration to Israel is hardly balancing emigration from Israel. In the year 2012, 16,577 Jews immigrated to Israel verses the 16,000 who emigrated from Israel. It is projected that by 2030, between 440,000 to 623,000 will immigrate to Israel and perhaps as many will leave Israel if current trends continue.

The largest reservoir of Jews outside Israel is in the US with 6-6.7 million, followed by Europe with 1.4 million. Given the continuing conflict with the Palestinians and the growing disenchantment of young American and European Jews with the Israeli occupation, the likelihood of a huge influx of newcomers from these two major Jewish centers is diminishing.

Many Israelis, led by a prime minister who warned of the coming demographic threat, are doing nothing to reverse this trend by taking the necessary measures to increase the Jewish population.

On the contrary, Netanyahu is making matters worse by his expansionist policies in the West Bank and his discriminatory treatment of Israeli Arabs, which can only further exacerbate relations between them. Thus, instead of becoming a positive component of the Israeli social fabric, they may well become a fifth column.

What will it take then to ensure that Israel maintains its Jewish national identity while still preserving its democratic nature, given the gloomy demographic picture?

First, Israel must resolve the conflict with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution, which would remove Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from the demographic equation that Israel faces today.

The continuing occupation and the expansion of settlements run contrary to the need to establish a Palestinian state in order to prevent the creation of a de facto one state, which will obliterate Israel’s Jewish national identity. This would also enhance Israel’s security and serve to make it a more attractive destination for Jews worldwide.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s warning in a 2007 interview with Haaretz remains as valid today as it was six years ago when he said, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”

“The Jewish organizations,” he continued, “which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.” This will certainly dry up any prospect of immigration of American Jews in any significant number.

Second, Israel must discourage emigration of Israeli Jews to Western countries by providing job opportunities and better prospects for the future. It was inequality and rising prices that brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets in the summer of 2011.

Meanwhile, the government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on building new and expanding current settlements at the expense of poor Israelis who are living hand-to-mouth, driving many from raising their families in Israel.

The answer to this dilemma is a new economic policy that diminishes the socioeconomic gaps in Israel while sparing no effort to establish a comprehensive peace with the Arab states. This would open up new markets on Israel’s borders, enabling new business opportunities to flourish in what President Shimon Peres used to call “a new Middle East.”

Third, although the pool of Jews who wish to immigrate to Israel is limited, cultural and religious ties are still a magnet that will bring Jews to reside in Israel. These potential immigrants will be encouraged to make the move provided that they believe Israel offers new and exciting opportunities for growth and serves the purpose that was intended by its founders: a secure and democratic Jewish state at peace with its neighbors.

Fourth, Israel should institute policies that encourage a greater birthrate among secular Jews by providing appropriate subsidies, especially affordable housing. The divide between Israel’s religious and secular communities is often portrayed in the animosity driven by the significant subsidies offered to the rapidly-growing religious community.

A campaign to reach all Israelis and offer appropriate assistance for higher education and housing is essential if Israeli citizens are to have the confidence that they can provide for larger families.

Fifth, as beloved as Israel may be in the eyes of American and European Jews, they are weary of Israel’s tarnished image resulting from its discriminatory policies toward the Palestinians by bending democratic principles and perpetuating the occupation, which is akin to apartheid.

Never before has Israeli democracy been so clearly under attack. Bills introduced in the Israeli Knesset in 2011 under Netanyahu’s stewardship sought to limit free speech by cutting funding from left-wing non-governmental organizations, curtailing the power of the judiciary, and explicitly declaring Israel as a Jewish state in a blatant measure to isolate its Arab citizens.

Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly likened Israel’s undemocratic legislation with the mullahs of Iran in her 2011 address to the closed-door Saban Forum, hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

Clinton’s comments came days after former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta implored Israel to institute civil measures and American Ambassador Dan Shapiro joined his European colleagues in conveying to Israeli officials the US’ concerns regarding the state of Israel’s democracy.

Israel must decide what kind of nation it seeks to become: an undemocratic apartheid state or a democracy at peace with its neighbors that enjoy strong relations with allies in the West. It has never been clearer that Israel cannot have it both ways.

Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state by the Palestinians, as demanded by Netanyahu, is of no value or consequence, not any more than the four countries identified by their religious majority: the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

Perhaps Netanyahu should call for renaming Israel “the Jewish state of Israel,” but then he must remember that only a sustainable Jewish majority will make it so.

It is time for the Israelis to ask their prime minister where Israel will be in 15 to 20 years down the line should he pursue the same illusionary policy. I am prepared to venture that his answer will be “I do not know.”

The absurdity of linking peace with the Palestinians to their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is glaringly clear because this will neither mitigate the challenging growth of the Israeli Arabs nor advance the peace process. Moreover, it will neither retain the democratic principle of the state nor will it ensure Israel’s Jewish national identity.

Therein lies the danger to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, regardless of by what name Israel is recognized and by whom.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 17th 2020
Mercedes’ new electric SUV is made by Daimler which has complained to the European Commission about Nokia.
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."