A State that Fears the Womb

Brief No. 227 (5 April 2012)

By Yousef Munayyer

Last week, the Israeli central bureau of statistics reported future trends which indicate the proportion of Palestinian Arabs in Israel will increase significantly by 2059.

Well, I have news for those arguing for a two-state solution will rescue a “Jewish and Democratic State.” Not only does the occupation make a liberal Zionist state impossible through the fundamental contradiction between a Jewish state and a democratic one, but to hope for a “democratic” Israel is foolish.

Think about what “democratic” Israel would be like. In order to insure a Jewish majority, the state will have to continue to not only discriminate against the Palestinian citizens in Israel but also continue to treat them as a “demographic threat.”

Numerous Israeli laws discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Because of a 2003 law, Palestinians like me can’t reside in Israel with their Palestinian spouse from outside of “Israel proper.” This means that if I want to live in Israel, my wife from the West Bank cannot live with me. Yet Jews are exempt from this hardship. These laws exist to prevent what Netanyahu refers to as a “demographic spillover”; the movement of Palestinians into Israel, which would threaten the state’s desired Jewish majority.

In fact, since the establishment of the state, its laws have marginalized the Palestinian minority. From the 1950 Absentee Property Law, which was used to expropriate hundreds of thousands of dunams of Palestinian land and is still being used today, to a series of other legalistic measures, the Israeli state effectively and significantly targeted the Palestinian minority.

Today, there are roughly 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, just over 20 percent of the population. This proportion would be even higher, perhaps 25 perecent, if not for the extraordinary influx of over one million immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia in the past 20 years—a demographic feat unlikely to be repeated.

In 2003, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israeli Finance Minister, argued that the “demographic threat” was not from the West Bank and Gaza, but rather from Palestinian citizens of Israel. He stated that 20 percent would be problematic and would have to be managed, but 35 to 40 percent would mean the end of the “Jewish State.” The state perceives that Palestinian wombs threaten its very nature.

Benny Morris understood the problem a sizeable Palestinian minority posed for Zionism, but he came to a horribly disturbing and morally reprehensible conclusion. What Netanyahu termed the “demographic bomb,” he told an interviewer in 2004, is really David Ben-Gurion’s fault, since the first Israeli Prime Minister should have finished the job and expelled the remainder of the Arabs while his hands were already dirty.

Terms like “demographic threats” or “demographic bombs” used by Israeli officials are callous ways to describe human beings and harken back to some of the darkest moments of human history. How could a state claim to be democratic and treat its citizens this way?

Even early Zionist leaders like Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the ideological forefather of Netanyahu’s Likud and the namesake of more streets in Israel than anyone else today, understood this about Zionism in 1923: “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population—an iron wall which the native population cannot break through.”

Thus, a Zionist state in any shape or form demands “Iron Wall” policies toward non-Jewish inhabitants. The Bantustans of today may be Qalqilya, Hebron and Gaza. The Bantustans of tomorrow would be Umm al-Fahem, Sakhnin, Taybe and Rahat. Even in my hometown of Lydda, the Israeli government has built a wall separating Arab and Jewish neighborhoods. Undoubtedly, the demand for a Jewish majority would continue even after any “two-state solution” and involve perpetual socio-ethnic engineering.

This is why Palestinians won’t recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.” States define themselves as they wish, but Palestinians believe Israel seeks such recognition to secure carte blanche acceptance of any future measures Israel would take in response to demographic challenges Palestinian citizens pose to Zionism.

One day into the not so distant future, the United States will no longer be a majority White country. Yet, this doesn’t pose an “existential threat” to the United States as a non-Jewish majority would to Israel. What binds Americans as Americans is not some narrowly conceived ethnic identity but an affinity to an idea. This is a very significant value Israel and the United States do not share.

“Liberal Zionists” ditched the mantra “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” for something more like “Zionism today, Zionism tomorrow, Zionism forever” in order to save the “Jewish and Democratic state.”

But there is nothing worth saving about an ideology that makes a state fear the wombs of its citizens.

This article originally appeared on Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center.

The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.