- It sounds like a bad joke, but it really happened: A
rabbi went from Israel to Peru, converted a group of Native Americans to
Judaism, brought them to this country and put them in a settlement, on
land taken away from its Palestinian owners. There they receive, as all
settlers do, generous government subsidies, paid for with money taken away
from thousands of Israelis living below the poverty line. There they can
live happily ever after (unless they leave the settlement in an unarmored
car, in which case they may be ambushed by the original Palestinian owners).
- What causes a state to bring total strangers from another
hemisphere in order to displace the native people, who lived there for
many centuries, at the price of an eternal bloody conflict? The answer
touches the foundations of Israel.
- Since the founding of the state, its emissaries have
been searching for ìJews.î In the former Soviet Union, Jews
were discovered either by finding Christians with remote Jewish family
connections (the ìJewish grandmotherî) or by simply forging
documents. Nobody knows how many non-Jews were thus brought to Israel by
the Jewish Agency and other organizations--at least 200 thousand, perhaps
400 thousand. According to the laws of Israel, they were automatically
- A few days ago, the ìNational Demographic Councilî
was revived, after being condemned to inactivity for some years. This is
an institution that is supposed to deal with what many Israelis consider
the stateís most important problem--more important than the war
with the Palestinians, Saddamís weapons of annihilation, growing
unemployment and the economic crisis.
- The ìdemographic problemî is being pondered
in universities, talked about in the media, expounded by politicians and
- ìExpertsî with computers are calculating
what will be the percentage of Jews in Israel in 10, 25, 50 or a hundred
years time. Will they be less than 78%? Or--God forbid!--only 75%? Will
the womb of the orthodox Jewish woman, in addition to expected immigration,
balance the production of the Arab uterus?
- And if not, what can be done? Some propose encouraging
Jewish births while resolutely discouraging Arab natural increase. Some
suggest preventing Jewish immigrants from Russia from bringing with them
Christian family members (allowed by the Law of Return in its present form).
Some demand the immediate expulsion of all foreign workers, before they
settle down and establish families. Some pray for a wave of anti-Semitism
in France or Argentina (but definitely not in the United States), that
will push multitudes of Jews towards Israel. Many, including members of
Sharonís government, support the simplest solution: driving all
Arabs out of the country. The ìnew historian,î Benny Morris,
recently hinted that Ben-Gurion should have done this in 1948.
- The attitude of the state to its Arab citizens, who now
number 19% of the population, reminds one of Pharaoh, who--according to
the Bible--told his people how to deal with another national minority:
ìCome on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply.î
And of the method employed: ìThey made their lives bitter.î
- According to the official definition, Israel is a ìJewish
Democratic State.î This was enshrined in law and endorsed by the
Supreme Court. In theory, there is no contradiction between the two adjectives:
The state is Jewish, but democracy safeguards equality for non-Jews, too.
Or, alternatively, the state is democratic, but safeguards its Jewish character.
- In reality, this is not a ìJewish democratic stateî
but a ìJewish demographic state.î Demography overcomes democracy
in all fields of action. An Arab citizen feels at every turn, since childhood,
that he has no part in the state, that he is, at most, a tolerated resident.
In every government office, police station or place of work, even in the
Knesset, he is treated differently from a Jew, even in times of quiet.
True, apart from the Law of Return, which gives a ìJewî and
his family (but not to Arab refugees) the absolute right to come to Israel,
no law discriminates between a ìJewî and a non-Jew. But this
is only make-believe: numerous laws accord special privileges to persons
ìto whom the Law of Return applies,î without mentioning ìJewsî
- This is so self evident, that all state officials act
accordingly without even being aware of it. The ìIsrael Land Authorityî
distributes land to Jews, not to Arabs. All state development projects
include Jews only. Among the hundreds of new towns and villages set up
since the founding of Israel, not a single one was established for Arabs.
There is no Arab minister in the Government, no Arab judge on the Supreme
- Usually, all these omissions are explained away by the
ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, Israelís Arab citizens
are Palestinians, too. But the question is what causes what: Does the conflict
create the anti-Arab attitude or does the anti-Arab attitude prolong the
- Critics of Israel accuse it of practicing ìApartheid,î
the South African racist doctrine. This analogy may be partly misleading.
Unlike Apartheid, Zionism is not based on race, but on a mixture of ghetto
mentality and 19th century European nationalism.
- Ghetto mentality is the spirit of a persecuted, isolated
community, which saw the whole world as divided between Jews and Goyim
(gentiles). European nationalism strove for a homogeneous national-ethnic
state. The Jewish demographic state has absorbed both these elements: a
homogeneous Jewish national-ethnic state, with as few non-Jews as possible.
- In Europe, where classical nationalism was born, it is
giving way to the modern American outlook, which considers that every holder
of a US passport belongs to the American nation, irrespective of race and
ethnic origin. This has helped it becoming the most powerful state in the
world, culturally, economically, and militarily. European nation-states
are gradually ceding sovereignty to the European Union, and their citizenship
is accorded to foreign immigrants, too, who contribute to their economy
and safeguard their social welfare system. In Germany, children of immigrants
born in the country receive citizenship, Britain and France are even more
- Israel is faced with a historical choice: to go back
to being a Jewish ghetto, with demographic anxieties and state trappings,
or to go forwards towards a new national outlook, on the American-European
- Zionism was the last European national movement. Israeli
colonialism, too, has come 200 years too late. So it is perhaps natural
that the challenge of adopting a new national outlook comes rather late.
But in the end, I hope, the Jewish Demographic State will be replaced by
the Israeli Democratic Republic, for the welfare and security of its citizens.
- Uri Avnery is a peace activist.