Hiking through a Galilean meadow during army service in pre-intifada 1985, a childhood friend approached a severely weathered and abandoned wooden shed. Drawing closer, he was able to decipher a message sprayed on to one of its crumbling walls.
“The future is ours,” averred the roughly scrawled words, whose Hebrew penmanship and spelling suggested the hand of a non-Jew; an Arab field worker, perhaps. The implication of the message was clear: the future won’t be “owned” by those who possess the present — namely Jews.
On a flight from Tel Aviv to New York some time later, I found myself seated next to my cousin Moishe, an anthropologist at a prestigious Israeli University. An extreme leftist, Moishe advocates, among other positions, an annual commemoration of the Nakba (the Palestinian defeat in 1948).
I soon found myself being lectured on Israel’s demographic imperative to immediately and unilaterally evacuate Judea and Samaria.
Forget the damn Territories, I pounced in counterattack: what did my cousin suggest doing about the demographic time bomb ticking within the sovereign borders of Israel itself? Arabs constitute one in five Israelis. What happens, I wondered, when they are, say, one in three?
Moishe responded with demurral: Israeli Arabs pose no problem.
Leftists have long decried the demographic quandary awaiting Israel if she continued to hold on to the West Bank. Today, few contest the notion that Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
But what of the Arab population within Israel proper? As Hillel Halkin noted in the January issue of Commentary, “any talk of an Arab demographic problem (in Israel itself) is forbidden. Political correctness compels the Jewish left to side with Israel’s Arab politicians and intellectuals, who have insisted that Jewish concern about the matter is illegitimate.”
Unfortunately Israel’s mainstream leadership and its allies have failed to forcefully counter the questions raised by Israel’s opponents: can a self-described liberal democracy ignore the aspirations of a large proportion of its population by insisting on identifying itself as an exclusively Jewish state? How can Hatikvah be the national anthem of a country where a large proportion of the citizenry have no “yearning Jewish soul”, don’t identify with the Star of David, or have no “right of return”?
Whatever one may think of him, the late Meir Kahane wasn’t intimidated by the dilemma: either Israel is democratic, he said, or it’s Jewish; ultimately, he continued, it couldn’t remain both — that is, unless Israel expelled its Arabs.
Aside from expulsion, creative solutions to the demographic problem have been floated. Halkin and others have proposed that Jews on both sides of the pre-1967 border would become citizens of Jewish Israel, while Arabs on either side of the same line would become Palestinian nationals, allowing Israel to drop the vast majority of Arabs off its ledger. Then again, such a proposal presupposes the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel.
Another idea involves border shifts. The Triangle, a region south east of Haifa containing the bulk of the country’s Arabs, would be detached from Israel and annexed to the Palestinian Authority whose territory it conveniently abuts. Meanwhile the Jewish blocs in Judea and Samaria would shift to Israeli sovereignty.
Unfortunately such fancy proposals won’t fly for one reason: Israeli Arab leaders aren’t interested in resolving Israel’s demographic problem. They’d much prefer that it fester far into the future so that the prophecy scrawled on that Galilean shed a generation ago, may one day materialise.
So what then is the solution? Barring unforeseen miracles, mass Jewish immigration to Israel by the hundreds of thousands remains the only viable way of ensuring that the Jewish state’s future does in-fact remain ours.