Doing the math at J Street: Nine is more than four

The most difficult moment for me at the J Street came this morning. I was listening to a panel called Messaging Pro-Israel Pro-Peace.

Jim Gerstein, the first panelist presented good polling data about the attitude of American Jews towards Israel and the US role in the region. Lots of good numbers here, the kind of numbers that AIPAC prefers to ignore.

The survey shows that 7 out of 10 American Jews support US policies that help Israelis and Palestinians resolve their conflict–and this includes the US publicly disagreeing with both sides as well as exerting pressure on both sides (in other words, disagreeing also with Israel and exerting pressure also on Israel).

You can find all the survey info here:

Matt Dorf, the next panelist talked about communications and messaging: what we say matters a lot, he said.

Keep this in mind as we move to the third panelist, Dr. Calvin Goldscheider. Here comes demography to help us say what we need to say about being pro-Israel pro-peace.

Dr. Goldscheider did a rapid survey in no more than a few minutes about the changing ratio of Jews to Arabs in what is now Israel. In a few seconds, we heard about the role of Jewish immigration, the Russians (not all of them are Jewish), the temporary workers from Asia (now numbering a quarter of a million) so and so forth. Not a word about the Nakba, isn’t that a bit odd?

But let’s focus on the present. The question on the table, Is there a demographic threat?

The good news, says Dr. Goldscheider, is that in the context of the State of Israel, Arab minorities present no demographic threat unless we include the occupied territories and give the inhabitants there equal rights. Inclusion without equal rights leads to the end of democracy. Inclusion with equal rights leads to the end of the Jewish majority in the state. And that is why a two-state solution is a must: to preserve Jewish democracy.

The Palestinians are of course non-players in this Jewish democratic drama. At most, they are a threat just for being there. At best, they are a minority that we must keep under demographic control.

Oh, but the Palestinians are playing their part well. You see, in the 1960’s Palestinians had an average of nine children per family. Now they only have four. (Phew).

Four children is a lot, but nine is a lot more, explains the kind demographer in case we cold not do the math. Audience laughs.

Now, I am Jewish and I am also a Latino man living in California–a state where we have a pluralistic demographic composition: not one group, not even non-Latino whites, amount to 50% of the population. If I were to hear white people bemoaning the demographic threat that the rise of people of color in the state represents, I would call it like it is, and that is racism, pure and simple. I have no use for the phrase demographic threat. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and a sharp pain in my gut.

What we say matters a lot; that’s what we were told in this workshop. If we need to use racism to message ourselves as Pro-Israel pro-peace, there is something very wrong here.

Is this the best J Street can come up with?

To be clear, I am not talking now about one-state, two-states, or three. I am talking about saying dayenu to this demographic threat mentality. I am talking about understanding fully and completely that you cannot save Israel’s democracy one bit when you celebrate the fact that 20% of its citizens has an increasingly lower birth rate (yeay!) so that their proportion in the population will not grow (double yeay!). If this is what you believe, don’t waste your time on avoiding the threat; you’ve lost the democratic values a long time ago.

My only consolation is that at least I can bring these issues to the public’s attention — even to the attention of the J Street conference participants.

Were I to be in Israel this very week, I would be furiously fighting against a bill advancing in the Knesset that would bar the Israeli government from providing funding to activities that deny Israel’s definition as a Jewish or democratic state.

— Sydney Levy

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