The demographics behind Israeli Rejectionism

Modern Israeli Zionist ideology denies the very existence of the Palestinian state and in doing so also denies the rights of the Palestinian people to their land.

Israel is faced with crippling social problems of its own, and these contribute to a foreign policy that is growing more and more conservative. For the Israeli Right and its allies on the global sphere, the greatest danger to Israel’s future and stability is the unwillingness of the Palestinians to make peace. The Israeli Palestinian conflict does certainly threaten Israel’s security, though not, as the Israeli Right encourage their constituency to believe, because militant and even moderate Palestinians harbour clandestine plans to drive the Jews into the sea. Rather the conflict threatens Israel because of how fundamental it is to the country’s internal politics.

Since 1967, when Israel began occupying the Gaza strip and the West Bank its presence there has played a significant role in structuring Israeli politics. “The Palestinian Question” came to divide and define not only political agendas but also Israel’s own people. Consequently it is a question on which successive governments need to have a strong position, and one that can determine their election by the people of Israel.

In exchange for parliamentary support the Israeli government financially sustains a large and consequentially influential community called the Haredim. The Haredim are the most religious and self-segregated component of Israeli society. The male members of the Haredim devote their lives to studying Jewish texts and thus do not contribute to the work force or economy. The female members of the Haredim have, on average, more than 7 children each, and generally lead very family-centric lives, also making little contribution to the work force.

The proportion of the Israeli Haredim is growing. Today they constitute only a little over 20% of the total Jewish population, however, they also constitute over 20% of Jewish people under 20 years old. It is estimated that in 2030 the proportion of Haredim might surpass 20% of Israel’s total Jewish population, and over a third of those are under 20 years old.

According to a recent survey done by Sergio Dellapergola, an academic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Jewish Israelis, not including the Haredim, are also becoming increasingly conservative. This is reflected in some ways through increasing fertility rates, with each Israeli woman bearing at least three children on average. Fertility among Jewish residents in the West Bank is also at an average of more than five children per woman.

The subsidisation of the Haredim in particular places a higher burden on the taxpayers. As a result, the largely secular well-educated elites, frustrated by low pay and high taxes have been slowly yet steadily emigrating overseas. This brain-drain has effectively served to lessen the influence of the Left, who were traditionally these secular, well-educated elites. Thus, the political rhetoric regarding the occupation has shifted to the right, pandering not only to the Haredim but also to the conservatives at large, the masses that as in any nation are vulnerable to the Realpolitik and propaganda the regime projects.

The political influence of the Haredim as a group has also been increasing over recent years. In 2003 In 2003 Uri Lupolianski became the first Haredi mayor of Jerusalem. In that election 90% of the Haredim population voted compared to only 32% of other Jewish people. In 1984 Haredi political parties controlled only 6 seats in the Knesset. By 2009 they had 18 seats, which is 15% of the body.

The increasing influence of the Haredim and other conservative Israeli parties is reflected through recent severe policies toward the occupation, and less and less willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians.

For example, in his 2009 Bar-Llan speech, Netanyahu emphasized the notion that “the root of the conflict has been – and remains – the (Palestinian) refusal to recognise the right of the Jewish people to its own state.” Significantly, the Israeli Prime Minister has also demanded from the Palestinian people: a “demilitarized” Palestinian state, to “overcome Hamas,” to give up the right of return to their homes in what is today Israel, to forsake even internationally recognized and legitimized claims to the city of Jerusalem, and to accept “normal life” in Israeli settlements.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party’s platform also “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river” and considers Jewish settlements a “realisation of Zionist values.” Similarly the former Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party considers the very concept of land for peace “fundamentally flawed.” The programmatic stance of Netanyahu’s coalition partner, Shas, is similarly stagnant and uncompromising, flatly stating, “Jerusalem is not an issue for division” and additionally, that “Shas will work for the continuation of settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

These positions are certainly not reflective of a broad Israeli consensus. They do however demonstrate the rhetoric within the Israeli Government and media, as it panders to the Haredim and conservative majority. Votes and popularity, rather than the safeguarding and enforcement of inalienable human rights and fostering of an eventual peace, being the ultimate objective.