Sunday, July 22, 2007

The threat of the 'demographic threat'

By Gideon Levy - Ha'aretz

Let us share in the happiness of A., a resident of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood of Mea She'arim in Jerusalem who has around 450 descendants. Who cares if they are Haredi? Nor is there any need to mourn the fact that 23 percent of first-graders are Haredi and 22 percent Arabs. This is a natural development in society, and it's doubtful that any legitimate means exists to prevent it. Anyone who views this as a danger is endangering the character of society far more than the tectonic demographic shifts. If we have indeed reached "the end of Zionism," the title of a piece by Nehemia Shtrasler on these pages last Thursday, it is not because of demography but because of geography (and morality).

There is no "demographic threat." There is a threat to society's values, which will be determined not by statistics but by the amount of social justice. Talk of a "demographic threat" is not legitimate. Imagine what would happen if a discussion were held in the United States or Europe on "the worrisome natural growth of the Jews." And who here would dare consider publicly the "fertility tendencies" of the Mizrahim - Jews of Middle Eastern descent. The truly dangerous threat is the discussion itself. It attests to the development in our society of very deep racist norms, cloaked in various ways, against the minority groups among us.

Haredim or Arabs - they are sons and daughters of this land. There are no democratic means to prevent them from becoming a larger portion of society in the future. Campaigns to reduce the birthrate are no less outrageous than the concepts of population transfer and ethnic cleansing.

Both the left and right are afflicted with this lethal racism, which stems from arrogance and fear of the other. The right wing is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the natural increase of the country's Arabs, while at the same time it is trying to annex 3 million Palestinians. The left, equally racist, is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the increase of the ultra-Orthodox population. From certain points of view, the racism against the Haredim is actually more serious: It uses anti-Semitic terminology and lacks the excuse of the national hostility against the Arabs.

The racist discourse has become the norm in Israel and the Jewish world at large. It began with the "danger of assimilation" and "mixed marriages" - a supremely racist term - continued with the "danger of Haredization" and ended with the "peril of the Arab majority." Demographers and geographers constantly publish forecasts and projections, competing among themselves for the title of chief doomsayer. A putrid stench emanates from the talk about "fertility tendencies," and the government's establishment a few years ago of a "Public Council for Demography," whose members included three senior gynecologists, shows the depths of pathology to which we have sunk.

Is it really important whether 3.5 million Palestinians reside in the territories, as the Palestinian Authority claims, or 2.4 million, as an American-Israeli team claims? One way or another, Israel is not granting them civil rights. Occasionally, another million Jews who "disappeared" from the statistics and preferred to obscure their Jewishness are found in the United States. What difference does it make? The future of the Jewish community will be determined far more by its members' degree of involvement than by their number, just as the future of Israeli society will be determined far more by the relations among its communities than the numerical ratio between them.

Israel is an immigrant society mixed with the native-born, a multicultural mosaic with the potential to become a just society. If the Haredim do not do army service or are not productive enough, the responsibility rests with the secular majority, which allows these phenomena. If the Arabs do not contribute enough, or are even hostile to the state, the state bears much responsibility for this. One can criticize the ultra- Orthodox and Arabs, but not enter their wombs. Children - Haredi, secular or Arab - are a joy if they are cared for properly. Their increase stems not from budgeting but from faith and values. Those who want a country to their own liking here must fight for the emergence of an Israeli ethos that is shared by all elements of society, whatever their size, and discard the racist bookkeeping.


At 1:15 AM, Blogger Baconeater said...

My view is that everyone has a right to be concerned of a rising Muslim population in the West and Israel.
What is done about it, is up to the individual countries.
In Israel, my prediction is that the secular/atheist/agnostic population will continue to grow in percentages.
What they need to do is relax immigration rules for non Muslims.
I'm sorry, but I wouldn't want to live in a Muslim majority state, and I think the West and Israel has every right to prevent it.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Ed said...

I did not realise that there was another Yorkshire blogger who talked about Israel-Palestine. My blog is still trying to get off the ground. I shall start reading this blog more often now.

If the Arabs do not contribute enough, or are even hostile to the state, the state bears much responsibility for this

This is a big assumption. Hatred does not always occur for a rational reason. If it did, then hatred would have never gotten started in the first place.

To be honest, I see Islam as a religion as sometimes not far beyond the ideology of fascism. Now, in Britain, we currently allow relative freedom for the B.N.P. That's not so bad: they're only small. If they got big, people would start saying that they should be banned. The same thing can apply to Muslims, especially if the population is particularly devout. A small population of Muslims can be allowed to go about their wretched religion fine. A large population is a real worry. Mohammed himself had a history of massacring Jews. It's even in Surah 33 of the Qur'an!

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Gert said...

"Hatred does not always occur for a rational reason"

Nothing arises out of a vacuum, and hatred certainly doesn't.

"It's even in Surah 33 of the Qur'an!"

Those with a feeble understanding of the world usually resort to lifting quotes out of the Qu'ran. All holy texts contain horribly violent and nasty bits and pieces.

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Baconeater said...

Gert, religion cause intolerance. Even Jews are guilty of it. Jews just express it differently.

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Gert said...


That religion causes intolerance is true but there are countless conflicts around the world that, although often perceived to be religious, are much more about power, resources and money than about religion. The N. Ireland problem, for instance, has almost nothing to do with religion but religion is being hijacked there as a rallying cry, a flag to assemble around.

The Israeli/Palestine conflict has also almost nothing to do with religion although there are some religious minorities on both sides who believe it's the sole cause.

Even the religious hatred between the three monotheisms, historically speaking at least, is largely about power and conquest, theological arguments often only provide a cloak.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Ed said...

Gert, I don't think that you're being very open-minded on this one. Please explain to me how hatred can possibly get started in the world if it needs a rational reason to start! It does not make any sense to me. Also, any psychologist can tell you cases of unprovoked hatred/resentment.

As for calling me "feeble-minded", I'd like to call you an obnoxious twat. At least, I have actually read the Qur'an and grown up amongst Muslims. There are not calls to violence in all religious texts. When did Guru Nanak ever blow anyone up? When did Buddha ever burn down a mosque? What have the Salvation Army ever done wrong? You are just making things up because there's nothing to back up your views.

I am an atheist and against all religions [except perhaps ones like Taoism, which are only called "religions" because they're really old]. However, I don't think that all religions are equally bad. I think that Islam is probably the worst, as it has Mohammed as its central figure, and Mohammed was the Hitler of his day.


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