Israel is facing a critical red line in the very near future.
But the threat is not from an Iranian nuclear bomb, or Russia supplying S 300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria. The most compelling threat to Israel as a democratic and Jewish state is demography, warns Yossi Beilin, a veteran peace advocate, former Israeli cabinet minister and academic.
“Demography is the most important thing and it is not a theoretical story—it is imminent,” Beilin emphasized during a talk here in support of the New Israel Fund of Canada.
Beilin—a member of Knesset for 20 years and cabinet minister in the governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak—put it this way:
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“Today we are 52 per cent Jews and 48 per cent non-Jews west of the Jordan River. It is a matter of a very few years when a minority of Jews will be dominating a majority of Palestinians.”
But even these numbers are deceiving, he noted, since the 52 per cent includes the estimated 300,000 Russian immigrants who are not Jewish, but identify with the Jewish state.
A Jewish minority situation may take another three or four years, but at that point the Israeli government will have to make a decision: “Either make peace with the Palestinians and have a border, or do what Ariel Sharon did (in pulling out of Gaza)—because he did not believe in negotiating with Palestinians—withdraw unilaterally.”
If Benjamin Netanyahu is still the prime minister, or someone else with the same outlook, Beilin believes there will be a unilateral withdrawal from areas occupied by Israel in the West Bank to avoid minority status for Jews.
And Beilin, who resigned from the Knesset in 2008 when he turned 60, and who runs a global consulting firm, says he knows exactly where the new border will be: “It’s along the fence, or the wall. There is no secret about it.”
But to help pave the way for a harmonious relationship with Palestinians, Beilin advises Netanyahu to “try the peace track, even if you don’t like some of the components.”
“It is much better to have peace with the other side than to throw the keys, as Sharon did in Gaza, and get what we got,” he said.
Because there is stability in the West Bank, in contrast with upheavals across the Middle East, now is the time to act, Beilin said.
“Use this opportunity, make peace, and act on the Arab Initiative, which says, ‘If you make peace with your neighbours, we will make peace with you.’
“Here is the difference between right and left,” he said. “The right always finds reasons or excuses to do nothing. The left is asking, ‘What can we do right now?’ ”
In that context, he urged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to abandon the search for a final agreement on all issues separating Israel and the Palestinian Authority and work instead on an interim agreement with provisional borders, leaving outstanding issues in abeyance.
Beilin spoke to about 100 people at the Temple Emanu-El Beth Sholem Congregation in support of the New Israel fund, which defines itself as non-political and non-religious and supports projects that promote democracy, justice and equality in domestic issues. Since its founding in 1979, more than $200 million has been granted to more than 800 organizations in Israel, including $40 million from the Ford Foundation.
The projects focus on women’s rights, civil liberties and human rights, economic justice and religious pluralism. At a recent meeting, there was no appeal for funds.
“We need this assistance badly, to fight the Archie Bunkers of Israel, and we have too many of them,” Beilin said.
“Somebody has to stand there and say, ‘Enough. You are destroying our faith, you are fighting our Jewish values in the name of security’.”
Because ultra-Orthodox and Haredi parties hold the balance of power in the Knesset, Beilin was skeptical that there will be progress on civil marriage, which is not now possible. Like in Quebec, more and more young Israelis prefer to co-habitate in a contractual arrangement, but rabbis fear a slippery slope. It will only change if Israelis take to the streets and say, “enough is enough,” Beilin said.
In spite of opposition from Rabbis for Human Rights and the Reform Movement in the U.S., Beilin supports Israeli efforts to resettle up to 40,000 Negev Bedouin into towns. This is the only way to enforce such laws as those against polygamy and ensuring that girls attend high school. It is a not a black and white issue, he insisted, and there has to be negotiation and compromise with the state.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is “a stupid idea,” especially when it comes to academics and writers, Beilin said. “You are boycotting the most liberal people in Israel. I will fight against it to the last day. You want to help me to achieve my aims by making me your enemy? It is unbelievable … crazy.”
Among groups that received the largest NIF grants last year were: Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Green Environment Fund, B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Association for the Protection of Mixed Family Rights, Israeli Centre for Educational Innovation, Merchavim Institute for Multicultural and Democratic Education for Israel. NIF.org/canada.