Time to retire the “Demographic Threat”
Many well-meaning pundits and politicians seem to base their whole approach to the Middle East peace process on a single “fact” – namely, that if a two-state solution is not reached soon then “Arabs living under Israeli control” will outnumber Jews, thus either destroying Israel’s democratic character or else turning it into a majority Arab state.
Guess what? This “fact” – postulating an imminent “demographic threat” to Israel and a two-state outcome – is simply wrong, as American law professor David Bernstein recently noted in an important blog post.
Here are the numbers – there are 6.4 million Jews in Israel. There are 1.6 million Arabs living in Israel. The West Bank holds at most 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs (though some argue this number is inflated and the real population is lower). 2.3 million of these live under the civil control of the elected Palestinian Authority.
Even counting these last as living under “Israeli control”, that makes 6.4 million Jews versus 4.1 million Palestinians. Moreover, Israel has a high birth-rate by Western standards – 2.9 children per family – and considerable net immigration. The Palestinian rate is somewhat higher but falling fast – and the Palestinian territories suffer considerable net emigration. In other words, a projection of demographic trends shows no Arab majority “under Israeli control” at any time in the next several decades.
Of course, the numbers come out somewhat differently if you include Gaza – but it is absolutely ridiculous to include Gaza, where there is not a single Israeli soldier or civilian. There is no reasonable argument that Gazans live under “Israeli control”. A partial blockade is not control. If Gaza is under Israeli control, then Cuba is under “US control” and Iran is under “UN control”, because both are subject to strong sanctions.
The point is not to argue a two-state resolution is not needed – it is. The point is that there is plenty of time to get the preconditions right for a deal that will be lasting and secure – something that is far from possible at the moment given the Hamas-Fatah split, continuing rejectionism, and the fact that uncertainties currently roiling the Middle East are strengthening the rejectionists and making the relative moderates timid and fearful. Efforts to prematurely force through an immediate two-state resolution to forestall the non-existent “demographic threat” – rather than to create the conditions where such a deal can actually be reached – are more likely to destroy or postpone prospects for an eventual lasting peace than hasten it.
The far left obsession with Israel
One thing that must puzzle any student of the anti-Zionism that is increasingly pervasive on the far left, in Australia and elsewhere, is the unhinged degree of stridency displayed. Many non-Palestinian, non-Arab far-left activists make Israel absolutely central to their worldview – sincerely convinced that Israel’s behaviour toward the Palestinians is the greatest evil in the world since the Holocaust.
Regardless of where you stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this belief is objectively indefensible in the face of the horrors of the past decades – the five million dead in the Congo civil war; the Rwandan genocide; Yugoslavia’s wars of ethnic cleansing; Tibet, and the horrors going on right now in Syria, with 70,000 people dead and more than three million displaced from their homes over two years. (This is more dead and displaced persons than from the whole 70 years of the Arab-Israel conflict.)
Part of the answer seems to come from the vicious anti-Zionist propaganda developed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s to further their Middle Eastern ambitions during the Cold War, and subsequently embraced by much of the international left. Another part comes from the successful entrenchment of these ideas into the United Nations bureaucracy in the 1970s. And some of it doubtless has to do with old-fashioned antisemitism.
But even together, these things don’t seem to be enough to explain the obsessiveness of the hate – especially among leftists respectful of neither the Soviet Union nor the UN.
Another important piece of the puzzle was explained recently by British journalist Tom Doran, who grew up in a left-wing Welsh family where he was taught that Zionism was equivalent to Nazism. Writing in the Jewish Journal in January, he noted the strange logic of much of the “anti-imperialist” left for identifying “the Enemy” and also why horrific tragedies like Syria or the Congo do not interest them:
Anti-Zionism is certainly ubiquitous on the hard left, but in my experience is merely one component of a seamless, all-encompassing theory of the world that, if I may be cynical for a moment, revolves around three questions:
1. Which side is the United States on?
2. Which side has all the money/weaponry?
3. Which side, overall, has lighter skin?
Where all three questions generate the same answer, that answer is The Enemy. Where the answers are mixed or unclear, the result is abject confusion, as in the case of Syria… It is this dogmatic form of anti-imperialism, in my view, that most accounts for leftist hostility to the Jewish state.
I don’t think this is the complete answer to my question. But I do think, given than it comes from someone who knows intimately the anti-Zionist venue of which he speaks, it is certainly a comment that helps one unpack the strange and rather narrow-minded worldview that lies behind the obsessive and destructive hate directed at Israel so often.