The six-year-old B'Sheva newspaper, published by the religious Zionist Arutz Sheva network, is currently Israel's fourth most widely read newspaper, according to a survey, and holds 7% of the Israeli market. The paper is distributed free to over 150,000 homes weekly.
Recently its editor, Emanuel Shilo, wrote an article responding to those who believe the Zionist state should give land to form a Palestinian state because of the "demographic threat". He writes:
The demographic threat has always been and continues to be the most persuasive argument of the pro-territorial compromise camp.
The left claims, in short, that Israel, as a democratic country, cannot rule for long over a large population that lacks political rights. Those in the pro-withdrawal camp say that if Israel continues to hold on to the West Bank, it will be forced to grant Israeli citizenship to the Arabs living there. This, together with higher population growth among Arabs than among Jews, will soon lead to an Arab majority west of the Jordan River. The resulting Arab political majority in Israel will then spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state, they say.
Since, the argument continues, it is inconceivable that Israel can hold on to the West Bank without granting citizenship to the Arabs, we must therefore choose between a state with a solid Jewish majority without The West Bank, and a bi-national state in the entire west-of-Jordan area. In such a case, it is clear that a small Jewish state is preferable to a large state with an Arab majority.
The strength of this demographic argument can be understood from the fact that Ehud Olmert used it to explain his own personal ideological turnabout that led him to support Ariel Sharon's Disengagement plan.
The demographic argument, which is the left's strongest card, can be answered and must be answered. There are many ways of doing so, and here are some of them:
" The most basic and most just response to this claim is that when we describe Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," we do not mean to equate between Jewishness and democracy. Never, even in our most glorious periods, did the Nation of Israel have a democracy - at least not in the sense that it is understood today. Judaism is the soul of our life and the purpose of our existence, while democracy is just a system of governance that happens to be the most suitable for our times; as Churchill said, it is the 'worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time.' We cannot say that we must ensure Israel's Jewish character - while at the same time trampling basic Jewish values. In sum: to the extent that there is a clash between the Jewish value of inheriting the Land and the democratic value of granting political rights to everyone wherever they live - the Jewish value wins out.
" Another just and strong response is that the way to solve an ethical problem is not by causing another one that is even worse. The abandonment of the West Bank to the Arabs may help demographically, but by pushing Israel behind indefensible borders, it will lead to an existential security problem. It will also bring catastrophe upon the citizens of Israel living within rocket-range of a terrorist state - as the people of Sderot and the western Negev well know.
" If ruling over a population without political rights is not democratic or ethical, then all the more so can this be said about the uprooting of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes.
" It can also be claimed that our withdrawal from Gaza has already neutralized much of the demographic threat, such that even if the Arabs of the West Bank receive citizenship, the Jewish majority will still be retained.
" We can formulate plans by which to grant political rights to the West Bank Arabs without giving them Israeli citizenship. MK Benny Elon, for instance, proposes a plan, the Israeli Initiative, by which they would receive Jordanian citizenship; this was also Menachem Begin's idea in his autonomy plan.
" We can also note hypocritical contradictions in the demographic philosophy of the left-wingers. For instance, their aversion to living in a bi-national state appears to stem from the same type of racism that they condemn elsewhere. Furthermore, why do they push for a full withdrawal even from the Golan Heights, where there are no demographic problems at all?
A new and important approach in fighting the demographic argument has been initiated by Yoram Ettinger, who decided to put an end to the left-wing monopoly on presenting demographic data and trends. Ettinger established an international research group whose findings have been much more optimistic than those we had been accustomed to hearing. In fact, the data sowed confusion and bewilderment among the left-wing prophets of demographic doom in academia, media and politics.
Ettinger and his team are the exception that proves the rule - a clear example of the tremendous damage caused to Israel and the nationalist ideology by the fact that academic research in the fields of culture, society and policy are almost exclusively in left-wing hands. The establishment of research institutes and groups with a nationalist orientation should be one of the most urgent and important objectives in the eyes of anyone to whom the values of the Nation of Israel are precious.
After all is said and done, however, the demographic trend can and must be changed. This must be done via Aliyah; via the encouragement of Arab emigration; and chiefly, via the encouragement of increased Jewish birthrate. Those on the left - those who constantly harp about the demographic problem - do very little to solve it. While families in religious circles have four, five and more children, left-wingers don't seem to want to invest in more than one or two.
The State of Israel does not even have a program to encourage births. The monthly child allowance grants are explained as a social, not demographic, need. Social rights granted to pregnant women and new mothers are similarly explained in terms of gender equality. There is actually no official body in Israel that deals with demographic planning or formulating policy to improve the demographic balance. And if such a body were to be formed, it can be expected to be outlawed on racist grounds by our Supreme Court.
This vacuum must therefore be filled by unofficial organizations of the Jewish People. Communal, social, logistic and economic tools must be created by which to encourage and help marriage at relatively earlier ages, and to support young mothers and large families. For instance, help in property taxes should be offered to large families based on number of people per residence.
This past week, MK Tzvi Hendel proposed legislation for income tax breaks for large families; most unfortunately, it was defeated by the votes of coalition MKs, including those of Shas.
We must stand up against modern trends infiltrating our camp that push towards less population growth; they negate the nationalistic reasons for having large families. The "righteous women" in whose merit our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt strove to "be fruitful and multiply" for blatantly nationalist-redemptive reasons, and the Jezreel Valley pioneers of pre-State times were not embarrassed to sing of their "homes full of babies."
In the end, the best response to the demographic problem will not be this or that argument or claim - but rather a change in momentum and the reality. The answer won't be found in articles on the op-ed pages, but rather in the maternity wards. And if this also helps to increase the proportion of the religious public as well, that will be a bonus.
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Before saying anything about Shilo's arguments, it must be stressed that True Torah Jews do not identify with either side of this debate. Each side holds that its approach is the best way to guarantee the continued existence of a Jewish state, whereas True Torah Jews hold that a Jewish state during this era of exile is forbidden by the Torah, no matter what the borders.
In his first "argument", Shilo, speaking in the name of religious Zionism, unashamedly admits that they are not primarily interested in democracy, and that the Jewishness of the state will mean discriminating against the Arabs and denying them the basic rights of representation. If this is indeed their position, we suggest that they make it more public so that American people understand that the "democracy" they are supporting is actually an ethnocracy and an apartheid state. These same Zionists often claim that Three Oaths, which prohibit a Jewish state during exile, do not apply when the nations allow the Jews to have a state. Now they should stop and reconsider whether even the nation that supports them most strongly would still support them if they knew that the Zionists were openly advocating a discriminatory state.
The second argument of safety is simply dishonest coming from an advocate of the settler movement who believes that Jews must fight and risk their lives to maintain control of the entire Holy Land. If safety were their real concern, they would be encouraging Jews to move to other countries where they do not face armed enemies on all sides.
The third argument is laughable - should we weep for the thief when his stolen items are cruelly snatched away and given back to their owners?
The fourth argument is hypocritical, given that the religious Zionists opposed the withdrawal from Gaza so strongly. And even without counting Gaza, there are 3.1 million non-Jews in Zionist-occupied Palestine, compared with 5.4 million Jews. That is still 36% and growing.
Surely the Palestinians will not be interested in Jordanian citizenship. They want the right of self-determination, not the right to belong to a country in which they do not live.
He says that the way for Jews to gain demographic control and ensure a Jewish state is by increased immigration. To promote our agenda, putting an end to a Jewish state, we must advocate increased emigration. This will be especially effective if religious Jews, who as he says have the highest birthrate, are the ones who leave.