The Moment of Truth
Yogi Berra’s saying, “it’s dejá
vu all over again” best describes the gnawing sensation that is becoming increasingly
difficult to ignore. In the 1970s, the
State of Israel began to settle Jews within the heart of Arab populations in
the West Bank and Gaza while completely ignoring relative differences in birth
rates between the populations. During
the past few years, we have been experiencing the consequences of that
leadership blindness. It is still not
clear how we will extricate ourselves from that trap – and yet, here we go
again. The cost of ignorance this time
may be existential.
In Israel today, there reside two
minorities who do not share the country’s Israeli-Zionist narrative. As some try to seclude themselves from us, many
in the majority have adopted the “out of sight, out of mind” approach and are
oblivious to what is occurring within these populations – as though what
happens there has nothing to do with us.
This attitude is sometimes reflected in discrimination and sometimes in
political coalition agreements with clauses that provide monetary disbursements
to relieve pent-up pressures.
In the meantime, a process has been
unfolding that has no parallel in the Western world. In the primary working ages of 25 to 54, 73%
of the ultra-orthodox men and 79% of the Arab-Israeli women are not employed. Thus far, the adult populations of these two
groups are still sufficiently small for the State of Israel to be able to
finance lifestyles of non-work at these rates.
But, as in the case of the West Bank and Gaza settlements, what
transpires over the period of a few decades is primarily dependent upon the
relative growth rates of the different populations.
It is difficult to overstate the pace
at which Israeli society is changing. In
1960, 15% of the pupils in primary schools studied in either the ultra-orthodox
or the Arab school systems (these are today’s adults). In 1980, this rate reached 27%, and last year:
it was 46%. If we won’t find a way to
integrate these populations into a mutual Israeli narrative, and immediately, then
in another generation or two – at most – the demographic balance within Israel
will change the country beyond recognition.
In that future, who will be able to
finance lifestyles of non-work at the rates to which these groups are currently
accustomed to? Who will be able to
assemble a majority in the Knesset that would make it possible to change these
conditions, even when it is clear that we cannot possibly continue to
underwrite them? Who will provide the
defensive shield? If the Israeli
narrative will be that of the ultra-orthodox or the Arab-Israelis, then how
many of the children from today’s majority will want to continue living here?
We are fast approaching the point of
no return, and it is time that all sides internalize what’s at stake. Without Israelis willing to work for a living
and willing to risk their lives to defend this country, Israel will cease to
exist. With it, the ultra-orthodox Jews
who live here will cease to exist. And
with all of the unconscionable discrimination faced by Israel’s Arab citizens, they
don’t have to look any farther than Gaza or Nablus to understand what kind of
alternative existence awaits them in such a future. It is no coincidence that, in all of the
polls and surveys, Arab-Israelis are totally against their villages and towns
becoming part of Palestine as part of a land-swap peace agreement.
We all have a lot to lose if we don’t
get our collective act together, and soon.
A necessary condition for changing direction is to mandate an identical
education in the core subjects – with no distinction on the basis of religion
or the degree of religious observance – for all of Israel’s pupils. They all need to understand the importance
that this country holds for their lives, the importance of working for a living,
and the importance of defending their country and their way of life. An additional necessary condition is
mandatory military or civilian service for all.
Where are the leaders who are ready to
level with the nation and declare that we have reached the moment of truth in
Israel’s history? Where are the citizens
who are ready to get off the couch and send these numbers to their elected