Posted by: Lister | July 22, 2007

The threat of the ‘demographic threat’

An article in Haaretz, by Gideon Levy. In part, he’s responding to an earlier article The End of Zionism, by Nehemia Shtrasler. From the latter:

Even today, 23 percent of first-grade pupils are ultra-Orthodox and 22 percent are Arab. In another 12 years, when they reach voting age, they will together comprise the majority, and the face of the nation will change.

These figures complement the data about the growth in draft-dodging and about the education system, which is incapable of training its graduates for a life of work and productivity. Draft-dodging, which was once a mark of Cain on the brow of any healthy secular man, has in recent years become almost the bon ton.

[…] Against this background, it is shocking to learn that yesterday the Knesset decided to extend the so-called Tal Law for another five years due to the government’s need to keep Shas in the coalition. This is a cynical, immoral law that absolves a significant portion of Jewish Israelis from the need to either do army service or work for a living. The fact is that 80 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work; instead, they live on government grants and stipends and the earnings of their wives. After all, why should they risk their lives?

[…] About two months ago, the Knesset, by a large majority, approved the so-called Nahari Law, which compels the municipalities to grant equal funding to ultra-Orthodox schools that are not part of the official education system. These are extremist institutions, which do not even recognize the education systems run by Shas and United Torah Judaism and are unwilling even to hear about the Education Ministry’s “core curriculum.” They do not teach mathematics, English, nature, science, civics, geography or history. In other words, they deliberately fail to train their graduates for a life of work and productivity. So these graduates have no choice but to cling to the coattails of ultra-Orthodox activists.

[…] All this leads to a situation in which only 56 percent of the country’s potential workers actually work – the lowest rate of any Western country.

Levy writes:

Nor is there any need to mourn the fact that 23 percent of first-graders are Haredi and 22 percent Arabs. This is a natural development in society, and it’s doubtful that any legitimate means exists to prevent it. Anyone who views this as a danger is endangering the character of society far more than the tectonic demographic shifts. If we have indeed reached “the end of Zionism,” the title of a piece by Nehemia Shtrasler on these pages last Thursday, it is not because of demography but because of geography (and morality).

There is no “demographic threat.” […] The truly dangerous threat is the discussion itself. It attests to the development in our society of very deep racist norms, cloaked in various ways, against the minority groups among us.

Haredim or Arabs – they are sons and daughters of this land. There are no democratic means to prevent them from becoming a larger portion of society in the future. Campaigns to reduce the birthrate are no less outrageous than the concepts of population transfer and ethnic cleansing.

[…] The racist discourse has become the norm in Israel and the Jewish world at large. It began with the “danger of assimilation” and “mixed marriages” – a supremely racist term – continued with the “danger of Haredization” and ended with the “peril of the Arab majority.”

[…] If the Haredim do not do army service or are not productive enough, the responsibility rests with the secular majority, which allows these phenomena. If the Arabs do not contribute enough, or are even hostile to the state, the state bears much responsibility for this. One can criticize the ultra- Orthodox and Arabs, but not enter their wombs. Children – Haredi, secular or Arab – are a joy if they are cared for properly. Their increase stems not from budgeting but from faith and values. Those who want a country to their own liking here must fight for the emergence of an Israeli ethos that is shared by all elements of society, whatever their size, and discard the racist bookkeeping.

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