Today in a news article, the New York Times described Palestinian refugees as posing a “demographic death warrant” to Israel. The article is about Israel’s response to the boycott movement, which supports the right of return of refugees:
Most Israeli Jews, as well as many outside experts, see either such a one-state solution or the return of all refugees and their descendants as a demographic death warrant for Israel as a Jewish state, which is how it was founded in 1948.
Written by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, that line drew harsh criticism from our community. Natasha Barakat:
Did @rudoren really refer to children as a “demographic death warrant”? I’m shocked.
In what circumstances would you consider it acceptable to call presence of Jews a “death warrant” to ANYTHING?
Dan Cohen tweeted the photo above:
Palestinians in Gaza use shipping containers to store what @rudoren calls “a demographic death warrant for Israel”
It’s unacceptable that you refer to the mere existence of Palestinians as destructive threat that brings with it death
Jodi Rudoren has responded to Khalek that she wasn’t saying that the right of return is a death warrant for Jews, but for the Jewish state.
People who closely follow the conflict know that the “demographic threat” argument for preserving Israel is widely considered racist. The argument is that Israel must take pains to establish a Palestinian state alongside it because otherwise Jews will cease to be a majority in the lands under their dominion (they probably already are a minority), and therefore that the Jewish character of the state will be at risk.
Of course, anyone who used such language in the United States to refer to black people or Jews or Muslims, or any other minority threatening the white or Christian character of anything would lose their job in an instant.
But Israel is always different; after all, it was founded on the premise of establishing a “strong Jewish majority” so as to be the homeland of the Jewish people. Two years ago Barack Obama called for the two-state solution, saying:
Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.
No, he didn’t say “threat” (let alone “death warrant”) but the liberal Zionist leader Jeremy Ben-Ami has: he wrote of ” the inexorable demographic threat to Israel’s future as a democratic state that remains the homeland for the Jewish people.”
But the awareness that you shouldn’t use such language is beginning to break on some folks in the mainstream– if not the New York Times. Here’s a Guardian profile today of B’Tselem’s Hagai El-Ad, by Eve Fairbanks:
When I asked El-Ad whether he thought a moral society in Israel could remain Jewish, it was the closest I ever saw him to expressing anger. “I think the narrowing of Jewish identity to demographics – that’s profoundly un-Jewish,” he snapped. “When you build a wall in this city to expunge, reject, thousands of people on a demographic basis, that’s un-Jewish.”
“What is Jewish?” I asked.
“Treating people with dignity,” he answered. “I think that’s enough.”
And here’s liberal Zionist Daniel Levy on the ugliness of the phrase, four years ago:
“[Avigdor] Lieberman is the bastard child of the demographic analysis of why we need to end the occupation, you cannot treat the Palestinian Arab public as a demographic threat and advocate full equality inside Israel.”