09 December '16..
Critics of Israel love to exploit Jewish fears and anxieties. The most extreme resort to Holocaust inversion, boycotts, blacklists, and other singling-out methods reminiscent of Europe's anti-Semitic past. Secretary of State John Kerry likes to wave around the threat of Israel's demographic extinction.
Acute Israeli sensitivity on this matter came to the fore in the late 1960s, when Israeli rule over the newly won Gaza Strip and West Bank was thought by many to be untenable owing to much-higher Palestinian birth rates. If Israel chose to annex the territories, it would be obliged either to disenfranchise their Palestinian inhabitants, making Israel undemocratic, or extend the vote and watch Israel's Jewish majority turn into a minority. For Israel to remain both a democratic and a Jewish state, according to the conventional wisdom, it would have to give the territories up. "The womb of the Arab woman," the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat famously said, was his "best weapon."
Fast-forward five decades. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the number of (non-Jewish) Arabs living in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem (4.62 million) and in Israel (1.68 million) for the first time matches the number of Jews (6.3 million). Taking into account still-higher Palestinian birthrates, as neatly graphed out in a September 2016 full-page New York Times advertisement by a pro-Palestinian group, the Jewish population in the expanse of territory "from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River" is projected to decline to 44 percent in 2030.
In his drive to wrest Israeli concessions he believes will break the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic logjam, Secretary Kerry has repeatedly warned of a demographic doomsday for Israel. "How does Israel possibly maintain its character as a Jewish and democratic state when from the river to the sea, there would not even be a Jewish majority?" he warned last December. Time is "running out" for Israel, Kerry maintains, insinuating that Arabs will be even less likely to accept a Jewish state as part of the former Palestine mandate once they become an overall majority, instead returning to their demand for a "one-state" solution. Israel then winds up "either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or ... a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state."
But time is not running out, at least not for Israel. There are three big problems with the demographic doomsday argument.
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Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum.
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