Israel's 60th Independence Day is an excuse for the international media to weigh in on the state of the Jewish state. Given the anti-Israel bias of most of the international media, not surprisingly, most of the reports reveal less about Israel's status at 60 than they reveal about how anti-Zionists perceive Israel at 60.
Two critiques -- both cover stories of major magazines -- stand out in this regard. In Canada, Maclean's magazine's May 5 cover pictures three Israeli soldiers struggling to raise the national flag. The headline reads, "Why Israel Can't Survive."
In the US, the cover of The Atlantic Magazine's May edition sports a Star of David painted in Palestinian colors of red, black and green ensconced in a PLO flag. The headline asks, rhetorically, "Is Israel finished?"
The authors of the two articles -- Michael Petrou in Maclean's and Jeffery Goldberg in The Atlantic come to their subject from different angles. Petrou writes as an emotionally disengaged observer. Goldberg, who made aliya in the 1980s, writes as a disillusioned Zionist who abandoned Israel and moved back to America. Petrou writes of Israel's certain demise with amoral detachment. Goldberg's dispatch is a deeply emotional attempt to justify his decision to abandon Israel.
Petrou's article begins optimistically enough. He asserts that at 60, Israel can handle all the security threats that come its way, including Iran's nuclear weapons program and Hizbullah's missiles in Lebanon. Yet despite its military strength, Petrou says that Israeli is nonetheless doomed for it has no way of contending with what he proclaims is the greatest threat: the Palestinian demographic time bomb.
The Arab demographic time bomb is a fiction.
By Petrou's estimation, "Within one or two decades, the number of Muslim and Christian Arabs will surpass the number of Israeli Jews (including Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself). When that happens, if there is still no Palestinian state (and in the absence of large-scale ethnic cleansing), Israelis will be forced to choose between two futures. Their country will either be Jewish, but not democratic -- in other words, a Jewish minority will control a land mostly inhabited by Palestinians -- or Israel will be democratic, but not Jewish, because Arabs will form the majority in what will become a bi-national state."
While well written, Petrou's piece is a journalistic embarrassment. For his central contention is a fabrication.
The Arab demographic time bomb is a fiction. It was created out of whole cloth in 1997. That year, the Palestinian Authority's Bureau of Statistics published data from a falsified census which claimed that there were 3.8 million Palestinians living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The PA projected population growth of some 4.7 percent per year - far higher than any other place on earth. At that growth rate, the PA claimed that by 2015, the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza would be some 5.8 million and that together with Arab Israelis, who number some 1.2 million, they would comprise the majority of the population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
In January 2005 a group of Israeli and American researchers published an in-depth analysis of the PA data. They compared the census with birth and death records published by the PA's Health Ministry, and education records of children entering first grade published by the PA's Education Ministry. They compared immigration rates published by the PA with immigration records compiled by Israeli authorities at the international borders. They compared population statistics with voter rolls in the 1996 PA elections. Their findings were remarkable.
They discovered that the PA had counted as residents hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lived abroad. It double counted Arab Jerusalemites. It assumed high immigration rates when in fact except for 1994, the PA has experienced net emigration every year. The PA inflated birthrates and deflated death rates. It ignored the tens of thousands of Palestinians who had immigrated to Israel.
All in all the American-Israeli Demographic Research Group discovered that the PA's census data was exaggerated by some 50 percent. Its researchers discovered that there were only 2.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, Judea and Samaria in 2004. They found that Israeli Jewish fertility rates are higher than Palestinian fertility rates in Judea and Samaria and the Jewish fertility rates are converging with Israeli Arab fertility rates. Fertility rates in Gaza are similarly declining steadily. So too, Israel's net Jewish immigration rates are positive and rising. Most striking, the researchers found that Israel's Jewish majority west of the Jordan River has remained remarkably steady since 1967. Today Jews make up a 3:2 majority over Arabs in Israel, Gaza and Judea and Samaria. Jews comprise 67 percent of the population of Israel and Judea and Samaria and nearly 80 percent of the population within sovereign Israel.
The AIDRG's initial and subsequent reports have received significant attention in Israel. Had he wished, Petrou could easily have accessed its work on the Internet. But that would have upset his conclusions.
The message is meant to demoralize Israel's supporters by telling them there is no point in trying to prevent the inevitable.
Petrou's story reveals a consistent message of many anti-Zionists. That message is that no matter what Israel does, it remains essentially powerless, just as Jews were powerless for 18 centuries in exile. It is meant to demoralize Israel's supporters by telling them there is no point in trying to prevent the inevitable. And it is meant to console Israel's detractors. They needn't worry. Israel is on its way out.
While Goldberg too, makes use of the PA's phony demographic data, his argument for Israel's demise is not about demography. It is an indictment of Jewish power. If Petrou's Jewish state is doomed because it is powerless just as Jews have always been, Goldberg's Jewish state is doomed because it has sinfully deviated from Jewish history by being powerful.
Goldberg set up his article as an indirect dialogue between far-leftist novelist David Grossman, whose son Uri was killed in the Second Lebanon War and Olmert - who Grossman blames for his son's death. Goldberg served as the moderator. Goldberg's decision to focus his analysis on Grossman was a revealing one. While Grossman enjoys a pride of place among the radical leftist elite, he is a marginal figure in Israeli society. Yet by Goldberg's telling, Grossman is a giant. As he tells it, Grossman's son's death in war, "became a national tragedy." Yet this is untrue.
Goldberg likes Grossman, because like Goldberg, Grossman doesn't feel comfortable with Jewish power. Goldberg notes approvingly that during the course of the Second Lebanon war, Grossman held a press conference with fellow radical leftist novelists A.B. Yehoshua and Amoz Oz demanding that Israel not launch a ground offensive in Lebanon. Goldberg ignores the fact that their call was widely ignored by the general public and to the extent that their press conference evoked a response, it was a negative one.
Goldberg recalled that after that press conference, Grossman told him, "Force [against Hizbullah] will fan the flames of hatred for Israel in the region and the entire world, and may even... create the situation that will bring upon us the next war and push the Middle East to an all-out regional war."
What is bizarre about Grossman's statement is that it was made while Israel was in the midst of a regional war. The war was fought by Hizbullah forces but it was directed by Iran, and Hizbullah was armed and equipped by Syria with Russian assistance. Today Grossman, who advocates negotiations with Iran's Palestinian proxy Hamas, is none the wiser and no less isolated from mainstream Israeli opinion. Yet Goldberg misleads his readers by claiming that Grossman's views are mainstream and influential.
Goldberg's assessment of Israel as destined to fail is predicated on two ideological opinions which imbue both his narrative and his analysis. First, he claims that Israel's decision to build communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines is the reason that the Arabs refuse to make peace with it. That is, it is Israel's fault that there is no peace. Arabs are not actors, they merely react to Israel. Second, and more fundamentally, Goldberg argues because Israel is powerful, it is necessarily immoral.
For Goldberg, it is military strength, or the absence of military strength, that determines if a nation should be supported or delegitimized.
Far from a moral argument, Goldberg's second assertion renders his analysis a moral perversion. For him, there is no distinction between actors, only between their relative military power. It is military strength, or the absence of military strength, that determines if a nation should be supported or delegitimized. In his mind, there is little difference between a powerful Israel and a powerful Germany. Both are destined to use power to advance evil. By the same token, since America is militarily powerful, its campaign in Iraq is evil and since al-Qaida in Iraq is militarily weak, it is a victim, and good, just like the Palestinians.
Goldberg's view is just as familiar as Petrou's. As Prof. Ruth Wisse from Harvard University wrote in her recently published book Jews and Power, throughout the years of Jewish powerlessness in 18 centuries of exile, many Jews confused their tragic and lamentable existential condition for a moral virtue. They reviled Zionism with its message of Jewish empowerment because they refused to recognize that power can be used to advance both good and evil, depending on the identity of those who wield it. For Goldberg, then, it is the very success of Zionism in empowering Jews that makes it unacceptable.
In the end, the unifying factor in Petrou's and Goldberg's anti-Zionism is that both ignore Zionists. For Petrou, Zionists are irrelevant because they are doomed to fail whoever they are. For Goldberg, Zionists are no more than symbols. They cannot be moral because they are powerful.
Israel's success is a testament to the enduring ingenuity and strength of the Jewish people as moral actors. The longevity of anti-Zionism is a testament to the fact that no matter what Israel's accomplishments, there will always be those who fail to see them.