How Many Is Too Many?

Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images

Demographic engineering is central to Zionism and has been through every stage of Zionist history. I suppose when a political movement seeks to transplant millions of non-natives into a land of indigenous Arabs, to borrow “father of Zionism” Theodore Herzl’s phraseology, demography must become a central obsession.

This was highlighted most recently by Aaron David Miller in an Op-Ed for the New York Times where, in discussing challenges facing Israel, he wrote, “The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.”

An ideology that seeks to build a society around a certain type of people defined by ethnicity or religion is inevitably going to feature racism, supremacy and oppression—especially when the vast majority of native inhabitants where such an ideology is implemented are unwelcomed.

But this premise of too many Arabs, too many Palestinians, too many __________ (fill in the blank with people unlike you) is so common in the discourse on the Israeli/Palestinian question today that the racism inherent in it rarely ever questioned.

Much like the “time is running out for the two-state solution” cliché, people who raise concern about “demographic threats” disguise an inconvenient reality in an attempt to create a sense of urgency about furthering a solution that time, and facts on the ground, has passed by.

I argued that anyone making the “time is running out claim” must be able to tell us when the clock strikes midnight and what is moving us in that direction, otherwise we are only left to believe that there is either no time limit, which is impossible to believe, or the more likely outcome, that time is already up.

The same should be required of those peddling the “demographic threat” nonsense. Tell us, how many Arabs are too many? How many human souls of an ethnicity inconvenient to your ideology are intolerable for you? Please put a number on it, I demand you do, so that we can better define the extent of your racism.

The “demographic threat” crowd, like the “time is running out” crowd will avoid an answer because doing so refocuses serious and morally grounded observers to the real problem: Zionism and its fundamental incompatibility with democracy, liberalism, pluralism and the twenty-first century.

This is perhaps the greatest difference between the United States and Israel. When it comes to American society, you would rarely hear arguments about too many blacks, too many Hispanics, too many Muslims, etc., and the few who do make these arguments are thankfully limited to the fringes and recognized by the majority as racists and demagogues. It is no surprise then that there is a convergence of racism, Zionism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment and general xenophobia in the American extreme-right; such ideologies are at home with one another.

But in regard to Israel, “demographic threats” are a much more mainstream obsession. When it comes to describing challenges facing Israel, those making arguments about “too many Arabs” are not relegated to the discourse’s trashcan where most racist arguements are sent, but are rather given space to advance their arguments in mainstream newspapers.

So the next time anyone argues that Israeli democracy is threatened by the presence of a growing number of Arabs, ask them, how many Arabs are too many? What birthrate percentage is too high? How many Arab babies does it take to give you nightmares?

Maybe, when such claims are scrutinized, we will realize the folly of customizing “solutions” to fit the whims and contours of a colonialist ideology instead of challenging that very ideology itself.