Just recently, the Israeli legislative body known as Knesset voted into law a draft on the status of the Jewish state, that has not just changed its nature but provoked a massive backlash both inside and outside Israel. This includes certain parties accusing Israeli leadership of both racism and discrimination.
According to this new legislation, adopted by a vote by 62 members of Knesset out of the traditional 120, Israel is a now “a national home of the Jewish people”, where Jews alone are entitled to the right of national self-determination within its borders. Additionally, this latest piece of legislation proclaims Hebrew the sole state language of Israel, while ascribing a “special status” to Arabic, which until this recent initiative, remained equally viable. This new piece of legislation became the 14th Basic Law of Israel, as there’s no constitution in the country. Israel’s legislation has been based on the Declaration of Independence of 1948, along with a number of Basic Laws adopted at different points in its history.
According to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, the adoption of the law on the Jewish nature of Israel constitutes a major milestone in the development of Zionism and the State of Israel. This move has effectively outlawed all internal disputes about Jews being or not being the dominant nationality within Israel, or of Jerusalem being or not being the capital of the country, along with the status of the Hebrew language.
Unsurprisingly, the 14th Basic Law provoked massive outrage among the Arab members of Knesset and can even potentially trigger massive nation-wide protests across the country. However, Arabs were not the only ones to protest, as they were supported by left wing and centrist parties of Israel in a bid to prevent the right-wing camp from transforming Israel in a purely Zionist state. A string of particularly harsh remarks was made about the provisions on the creation of purely Jewish settlements and the use of “purely Jewish tradition” as a source of law for the judicial system of the country. While various drafts were being discussed over the last couple months, its opponents managed to take those provisions down, but they still found themselves incapable of derailing the entire package.
Once the final draft was adopted into law, Arab members of Knesset would tear its latest revisions to pieces before being removed from the building. As they were forced out, they would chant accusations of Tel-Aviv being transformed into an apartheid state. The head of the Joint List , Ayman Odeh, released a statement saying that Israel had recognized Jewish supremacy, adding that Arabs living in Israel wouldn’t settle for the status of second-class citizens. Another representative of the same party, Said al-Harumi, accused Netanyahu and his supporters of adopting racist laws.
The leader of the parliamentary opposition, Isaac Herzog told reporters that it was truly disheartening that the ruling elites abolished the principle of equality, which played a fundamental role in protecting the prestige of Israel.
The European Union has also expressed its concern over this latest piece of Israeli legislation, noting that it will complicate the search for a comprehensive solution for the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.
To better understand the reasoning behind the adoption of such highly controversial and discriminating laws, one must examine the situation in today’s Israel. First of all, it should be recalled that in recent years Tel-Aviv launched a nation-wide information campaign that was aimed at making local residents worry about whether or not Israel will be a Jewish state by the time of its 100th anniversary. To support this agenda, a number of right-wing politicians and journalists began making remarks about high birth rates among the Arab population of Israel being among the gravest and most urgent concerns of the state. For example, one local newspaper would argue that there’s no real way of saving the Israeli state if birth rates remain unchecked, adding that even with all of the Jewish migrants choosing an option of returning home, Arabs will still soon make up a majority of the population, which effectively means that they will be able to elect their own politicians.
But, in order to prove these statements true or false, one has to venture into a fairly complicated world of raw numbers.
Today the population of Israel is around 8.5 million people. Jews account for no less than 76% of this number, with Arabs, including Bedouins, Palestinians, Arab Christians making up no more than 20%. Statistics show that the peak of the demographic boom in the country is effectively over. But it should be noted that population growth rates have diminished across the board over the last year. Even in such regions as Africa and in Asia. According to the United Nations, a number of nations is running the risk of depopulation. This problem remains particularly relevant in Japan which is about to face a projected decline of 16 million people by 2050. Russia is also in trouble with an expected decrease of 33 million people, followed by Italy (15 million), and Germany (12 million ).
However, this problem will not concern Israel yet. The average annual increase in the Israeli population has been fairly stable at a rate of 3.2% a year, including a 2.86% increase among Jews, and 3.55% among Muslims, with 2.4% being represented by Christian families. The data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel shows that the population growth of the country comes at the expense of three specific groups of the population of Israel: returnees arriving in the country, settlers of Israel and the third group – ultra-Orthodox. Interestingly enough, these groups do not enjoy the popularity and sympathy of the better part of the Israeli people, and they do not belong to the ruling elites of Israel. Although in recent years the number of returnees has decreased, they are still the main sources of the growth of the population of the Jewish state.
The second most significant source of growth within the Jewish population are the families of settlers of Samaria, Judea, and the Gaza Strip, where the increase is 9-10% due to significant fertility, with those areas perceiving a woman with 5 children as nothing out of the ordinary.
Today, the largest number of Jews live in the US – about 6 million people, with France coming in second with about a million Jews living there. Third place is occupied by Russia, followed by the United Kingdom and Ukraine.
The bottom line shows that demographically speaking, Israel for many decades to come will remain a state where Jews live. Therefore, the adoption of this highly controversial law is determined by the desire of the current leadership to gain massive appeal in the eyes of the Jewish lobby in the United States and a number of other Western countries, by setting in stone the privileges that Jews are to enjoy in the state of Israel. In addition, as local media sources note, the adoption of the 14th Basic Law of Israel effectively dismantles all the demands made by Tel-Aviv to Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries to recognize the State of Israel. Now one’s recognition of the state of Israel effectively means that they are recognizing its Jewish nature.
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”