By Sal Bommarito
The future prospects of the Jewish state in Israel are not encouraging. Several factors bear out this dire assessment.
Along with outright antisemitism, one of the most devastating phenomenon affecting Israeli Jews is demographics. There are approximately 13.9 million Jews worldwide. The population of Jews in America is about 6.7 million. In neither case, do Jews have a significant numerical presence.
In the combined Israel/Palestine area, the number of Jews is expected to grow from 8.2 million currently (75% of the total) to 11.4 million (73%) by 2035. The composition of religions in this region is Muslim (47%), Jewish (50%) and Christian (2%). However, it should be noted that 317 million Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa. Once again, Jews are a relatively small part of the demographic mosaic.
The conclusion to be drawn is that the indigenous population of Israel/Palestine is moving away from Jews, and they will become a smaller and smaller percent of the population as time passes. Also, birth rates of non-Jews in the area are much higher than Jewish rates (including immigration of Jews to Israel). Further, the number of Muslims who are anti-Semitic is far larger than the current and projected Jewish population.
The ultimate division of the area between Israel and Palestine is very significant. A one-state solution will result in a Muslim majority in the next few years based upon current demographic trends. A two-state solution would protect Jews from becoming a minority, but Muslim leaders know this and will likely oppose such a plan. The ultimate direction of this controversy is far from settled.
The support of Israel by Jews around the world is becoming problematic. In America, young Jews are increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its conservative politics. The importance of this is twofold. The first is financial. As years pass, the U.S. government’s interest in providing assistance to Israel may wane because of less political pressure from American Jews. Second, cohesiveness of Jews throughout the world seems to be decreasing. Considering the magnitude of antisemitic forces that must be contended with, it is important for all Jews to show solidarity.
Some believe that as older Jews die and memories of the Holocaust fade, Jewish support outside of Israel will decline. And, the need to have a place of refuge in the face of oppression is diminishing. The safety Jews feel as residents of the U.S. is one cause of this trend.
But, antisemitic attitudes throughout the world have not abated. The Economist indicated that even in Europe, arguably the second safest place for Jews, antisemitism is growing. In eastern Europe, 34% are antisemitic, and in western Europe, 24% are antisemitic.
Given that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and over 300 million in the same region as Israel, it is no wonder that Israel is constantly under pressure. Also, Israel is the principal caretaker of the home of several religions, which greatly elevates resentment and tensions.
In recent years, many Muslim heads of state and religious leaders have called for the destruction of Israel. High on the list is Iran, which is situated close by, and funds various terrorist groups that prey upon Israel. Significant funding of terrorist activities is also provided by virtually by all Arab countries in the Middle East.
Israel cannot survive without strong support from the U.S. Published financial funding is about $3 billion annually, $1.2 billion for economic benefits and $1.8 billion for military purposes. It has been estimated that the U.S. has granted over $80 billion to Israel in the period 1949-2000. This excludes covert and secret military operations (i.e., intelligence).
How important is Israel to the U.S.? It is possible that America may decide to decrease its commitment to Israel? Tension between the two current leaders foretells more problems going forward. One thing is clear, without U.S. backing, Israel would be doomed sooner rather than later. Israeli leaders know this so that the U.S. should be able to greatly influence Israel.
A final question is whether Israel is important to Jews outside its borders. Since the end of World War II, the country has been a safe haven for Jews persecuted around the world. The government has encouraged the immigration of Jews seeking asylum to bolster its somewhat meager birth rates. But, are there other places that Jews can find safety? The obvious one is the U.S., which has welcomed oppressed people over the years. Unlike other immigrants in recent years, Jews are very quick to assimilate and rapidly become self-sufficient economically. So, increased immigration would not be an extraordinary burden to the U.S.
Is Israel is important to Jews outside of Israel for emotional and religious reasons. Older Jews say that the loss of the Jewish state would be devastating, even as they live safely, happily and securely in America. Given that younger Jews do not feel this strong attraction, does it foretell growing American apathy towards Israel in the future? Only time will tell.