JERUSALEM — Although political Zionism, as conceived 114 years ago by Theodor Herzl in his groundbreaking work entitled “The Jewish State,” led to the State of Israel in 1948, its fundamental premise, aliya, (Jewish immigration), no longer seems to be a realistic concept.
At least, it doesn’t insofar as the current government is concerned.
It is not treated as a viable answer to the so-called “demographic threat” allegedly posed by the Palestinian Arabs who inhabit the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The pervasive rationale for the handover of these areas to the Palestinian Authority, which is as required by the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is that there is no other way to make sure that the overwhelming majority of Israel’s population will continue to be Jewish.
Its advocates contend that only withdrawal from those areas will guarantee Israel’s survival as a Jewish democratic state.
Neither the Hebrew-language press nor electronic media ever discuss the possibility that many American or Canadian Jews might prefer to live in Israel if indeed the Israeli government encouraged them. Then the demographic bugaboo would vanish.
Anyone who has lived in Israel long enough to understand the implicit meaning of Zionism in Hebrew slang, i.e. nonsense — “don’t talk Zionism to me,” they say, meaning “get serious” — should be familiar with this attitude.
Significantly, when the Central Bureau of Statistics issues its annual report on Jewish immigration (usually on the eve of Rosh Hashanah), it never includes the net demographic gain. This is because the number of Jewish Israelis who emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia or other attractive countries is never mentioned.
Nor is any thought given (in public) to the bizarre fact that there are more than 1 million former Israelis living in North America. That statistic is particularly striking when compared to Israel’s current Jewish population of just over 5.5 million.
The Hebrew-language media have yet to come out with an objective and comprehensive report on the problems the so-called yordim (those who descend from the Promised Land) face when they are confronted by the economic, social and cultural realities of life in the United States. Once they are there, the Hebrew-speaking newcomers find out that they face the same problems that have plagued American Jews for the past two centuries: intermarriage, assimilation and, to a lesser extent, perhaps, anti-Semitism.
Two of the factors that discouraged aliya in the past — a lower standard of living and the geographical distance from the United States — have disappeared.
Israel’s economy has expanded to such an extent that living standards here are frequently on a par North America. Jet travel has shortened flights from Tel Aviv to New York to less than 13 hours and from New York to Tel Aviv less than 11 hours.
The bottom line is that Zionism as a form of political messianism will not have achieved its ultimate objective — bringing Jews back to the land of Israel — as long as there are more Jews in the United States than in the Jewish state.
Those Diaspora Jews who take pride in the existence of Israel as the fulfillment of Jewish prayers and aspirations cannot have it both ways, enjoying the security and prosperity of life in United States or some other Western country while maintaining a platonic, if not detached attitude toward their ancestral homeland. To maintain the status quo in which 80 percent of Israel’s citizens are Jews and 20 percent are Arab there will have to be a steady and appreciable influx of Jewish immigrants from abroad. These newcomers should arrive here within the next decade and should provide Israel with up to two million more Jewish citizens.
This immigration can come only from countries that have a relatively large number of Jews — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and France. It is the only moral and ethical way to offset the traditionally high Arab birth rate (although some demographers contend that Arab families in Israel and the West Bank have been getting smaller as the local Arab standard of living rises).
If the two-state solution is the best way to achieve lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, then Israel still will require a much bigger population, even if it is geographically smaller than it is today. Otherwise, it might be doomed from within as well as from without.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)