With the Republican nominee all but settled, presidential election season is rapidly descending upon us. Before long you will no doubt hear how the election of one candidate or another will spell certain doom for the country. Voices on both sides of the political spectrum tend to overstate the likely consequences of going against their advice.
Jews on both sides of the Israeli political debate have the same tendency.
The other day, in response to an article about Israel I had posted on Facebook, I received a message from a friend on the political left who wrote, “The current policies are untenable and will lead to Israel’s destruction.”
In the debate about Israel’s future, Jews on both the right and the left often argue that if Israel doesn’t listen to them, the Jewish state will face certain ruin. It’s high time that they start showing some intellectual humility, which begins with the notion that there’s a lot that we don’t know, and that events can and often do turn out differently than any of us can predict.
Some voices on the right assert that ifIsraelagrees to a two-state solution, it will be left with “Auschwitz borders” indefensible against ultimate and inevitable attack. You can see this kind of rhetoric in recent comments made by a government minister at a rally with settlers. Likewise, Ronn Torossian, a New York public relations executive, slammed the Obama Administration for what he deemed a call to “return to the Auschwitz borders.”
The left is not immune from such extreme prognostication, either. Noted American Jewish liberal thinker Leonard Fein recently wrote the following:
I am happy to acknowledge my own fallibility… But respect the view that Israel should hold on to all the West Bank, come what may? To my way of thinking, that is a proposal that Israel commit suicide.
Similarly, Haaretz commentator Bradley Burston recently argued that the true Auschwitz borders are the status quo. Bradley furnishes a parade of horribles if Israel fails to cut a deal with the current Palestinian Authority:
Such targets as Ben-Gurion International Airport, the towers of Tel Aviv and the settlements themselves will be much more difficult to defend. The security burden of policing an anarchic West Bank will greatly intensify… The longer the occupation endures, the more likely it is that Jews will find themselves a minority in Israel and the West Bank. The apartheid analogy will be complete.
This is not the first time we’ve heard doomsayers predict demographic Armageddon for Israel. Ben Gurion was urged by a leading demographer at the time of the founding to put off declaring independence because the demographer projected that by 1967 Jews would be a minority in the 1947 lines. It turned out that by that time Jews outnumbered Arabs six to one.
I’m not dismissing the gloomy demographic forecasts. It’s quite possible that if nothing changes, Israel’s Jewish population will become a minority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean by 2020, as Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola ominously predicts.
It’s also quite possible that Palestinian population growth, consistent with global population trends, will continue to slow, or that some other unforeseen event, reminiscent of the exodus of more than a million Soviet Jews to Israel in the 1990s, will dramatically alter the demographic reality.
Even if Palestinians eventually outnumber Jews between the river and the sea, Israel can always do in the West Bank what it did in Gaza — leave the major population centers and define its own borders. Such a move wouldn’t produce peace — neither, likely, would a peace deal — but it would solve the demographic problem.
Moreover, if Israel does maintain control of the West Bank, it will not suddenly turn into an “apartheid state.” If the Palestinians continue to make unrealistic demands or remain incapable of controlling radical forces in their own territories, it is the Palestinians, more so than the Israelis, who would be morally culpable for the occupation. A change in population balance within these imaginary boundaries does not, by itself, decree an end to Israeli democracy. Nevertheless, evidence of growth in the relative size of the Palestinian population does present Israel with a long-term political, social and psychological challenge that we cannot and should not ignore.
Similarly, we also should not dismiss the doomsayers on the right. While territorial compromise may not lead to Israel’s defeat in a conventional war, it could turn the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem into areas controlled by radical forces such as Hamas, in close proximity to Israel’s capital and major population centers.
But again, these are possibilities, not inevitabilities.
As much as they may otherwise claim, the political left and right offer us no ironclad certainties — only worst case scenarios. Those of us in the center must keep our wits about us, and be uneasy without becoming unhinged. For all, a dose of humility is in order.