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Posts Tagged ‘demographics’

It’s all about the numbers

May 19, 2011 2 comments

I have an American friend who loves Israel. She is neither Israeli nor Jewish, and she has really tried to educate herself about the country, the politics, the people. Her opinions are right wing and she sees things from a very biblical perspective. Most of her US and Israeli friends (both real and facebook) seem to share her views.

A couple of days ago she posted an article about the Israeli Arab protests on Nakba day. The comments that followed were along the lines of “throw them out” and “how dare they? They have equal rights in this country, education, medical services – now they bite the hand that feeds them?”

So. First off, who the hell are we kidding? While Israeli Arabs technically have equal rights under law, this is not how it actually plays out. Israeli Arabs experience all sorts of discrimination, and they are usually treated as second-class citizens. They get much lower budgets for education and infrastructure. They are consistently denied their rights, and it’s all done by the government and municipalities rather cleverly.

When I responded that it’s simply not true that Israeli Arabs have equal rights, things got really ugly. I continued to respond politely, quoting facts, suggesting that they do some research, but the responses to me for having the gall to suggest such a thing were…rabid (not from my friend, from her supporters).

The hard truth is that Israeli Arabs are treated by the majority of Israeli Jews as interlopers – unwanted citizens of OUR country. We just want them to be quiet and clean our homes and build our apartments. We need their labor. We like their humus. And we want them to STFU.

Israel, with its Jewish identity, poses a major problem for Israeli Arabs. How can they feel patriotic towards a flag that excludes them? Towards a country that does not want them?

Israeli Arabs also pose a real problem for Israel as a Jewish state– and it’s all about demographics. Here are the figures:

From Wikipedia: As of May 2011, the State of Israel has approximately 7,746,000 inhabitants. The State of Israel had population of approximately 7,746,000 inhabitants as of May 2011. 75.4% of them were Jewish (about 5,795,000 individuals), 20.4% were Arabs (About 1,571,000 individuals), while the remaining 4.3% (about 318,200 individuals) were defined as “others” (family members of Jewish immigrants who were not registered at the Interior Ministry as Jews, non-Arab Christians, non-Arab Muslims and residents who do not have a religious classification).

Almost a quarter of our country is not Jewish. And the Arabs having a higher birth rate. Simply put, at some point they are going to become the majority.

This issue has shaped Israeli policy and culture from the time the state was founded in 1948. I mentioned in a previous post that my husband and I are happy with our 2 girls, and don’t  plan on having more children. This is an anathema in Israeli society. We get lectured about this a lot. The average amongst my (secular, middle class) peers is 3 children. It’s not like the culture or state actually supports in any way families once they actually HAVE them (unless you are Haredi). We are still taxed up the bum and the cost of living here in one of the highest in the world, a direct result of lack of competition since our politicians are in the pockets of all the major companies in Israel.

But there is a lot of pressure to have children.

Fertility treatments in Israel are subsidized and are a fraction of the cost of treatments in other countries. I think this is a great thing – I’m just explaining why.

It’s also one of the reasons so much of the taxes I pay go to support Haredi families (another is the structure of our government, which results in smaller political parties having disproportionate power).

Trying to solve the demographic problem, we look to the religiously observant (BTW many haredim do not even believe in the State of Israel). Religiously observant Jews follow the biblical instruction to be fruitful and multiply, and they take it very seriously. The vast majority of haredim in Israel don’t work (and most don’t serve in the army). Yet they are supported by the state. Demographics.

Here’s the problem with looking to the Haredim to save us. Within the Jewish population they are growing fast. What happens if they become a majority? The ramifications for this country are massive. Economically, we will collapse. As the Haredi sector grows, the working middle class will simply not be able to shoulder the burden. Once they have their parties in power, the fragile (in some areas, depending on who is running which ministry, non-existent) line between religion and state will cease to exist. Like I said, many Haredim do not even believe in the State of Israel. How will that factor into the equation?

This is a disastrous scenario.

The other scenario is where Israeli Arabs become a majority at some point and come into power. It sure would sound nice if I were to say that I would have no problem with that, cause everything will be hunky dory and you know, fair.  Except that if I hazard a glance at our neighboring Arab states,  I can’t help but notice that they don’t exactly have such a great track record in terms of human rights, economies, democracy, education, moderation, women’s rights, separation of religious and state…for a start.

And while it’s certainly not the liberal thing to say – I want to live in Israel that has a Jewish identity.  I want the Star of David on our flag (although I really wouldn’t mind some other symbols up their as well). So go ahead, call me a Zionist.

But I also want Israeli Arabs to have equal rights, and I want them to have a feeling of belonging. I want foreigners to be able to come here as refugees from the horrors of their countries and be able to make a life for themselves and their children. I want freedom of speech. I want real democracy.

So what’s the solution?

Honestly? It beats me.

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