by Avram Miller
I have been thinking about the significance of being a Jew at this time, in particular, contemplating the survival of the Jewish People. Frankly, I am frightened. I am a Zionist and believe that Jews need a homeland, Israel. History has proven that. Now, this homeland is in turmoil and its very existence is threatened not from its many enemies outside but from those within.
Who is a Jew is not a simple question to answer because of factors like religion, ethnicity, and culture. For me, a Jew is someone that identifies as being Jewish, not someone that has Jewish ancestry, although that was good enough for the Nazis.
The reason for a Jewish homeland should be apparent in the table below. The Nazis were successful in almost ridding Europe of Jews, killing half of them, this constituted a third of all Jews in the world. Nearly 80 years have passed since the defeat of the Nazis, and the number of Jews is still less than in 1938.
The Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa then eliminated their Jewish population. Before the state of Israel was created, Jews played an essential role in most North African and Middle Eastern Countries. In retaliation for the establishment of Israel, their Jews were forced to leave, depriving these countries of some of their most productive citizens, many of who moved to the newly formed Israel. Without these people, I doubt that Israel would have survived.
In 1938, Jews represented just 0.72% of the world population, which today has fallen to less than 0.2%. In 1938, Jews represented close to 2% of the people of Europe. Now they are less than 0.2% of that population. In North America, Jews represented about 1.5%, down from 1938 when more than 3.5% of that population was Jewish.
Antisemitism drives the remaining European Jews to seek a safe place for their children. Those that can afford it already have second homes in Israel. So they will either leave Europe or begin to hide their Jewish identity.
The only places on earth where the Jewish population is growing in absolute numbers are North America, which has a slight increase, and Israel, which has had a twenty-fold increase since 1938. Therefore, it is likely that in another generation, the only countries left with significant Jewish populations will be Israel and the USA.
I break the Jewish population into three groups:
- Jews outside of Israel identify first as a citizen of the country in which they live.
- Jews who identify first as being Israeli.
- Jews that identify first as being a Jew (primarily ultra-Orthodox).
The majority of Jews in the USA are not very religious, and this group is not growing primarily due to intermarriage and low rates of birth of non-Orthodox Jews. The ultra-Orthodox group in the USA is about 12% of the Jewish population, and about 15% of the Jews living in Israel are ultra-Orthodox. They have high birth rates, between 6-8 children per family. At that rate, they more than doubled their number in Israel and became more than 20% of the Israeli population in the next 25 years and become a third of the Jewish Israeli population. The Arab population is about 20% of the total Israeli population and is likely to become about 25% in 25 years due to higher-than-average birth rates. Therefore most Israeli citizens will no longer serve in the military after high school as Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox are exempt for compulsory service. Israel will struggle to survive in this situation.
The number of non-ultra-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel will continue to decline; while the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews is growing, it is from a relatively small number in the USA and Israel. The non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish population of Israel is also increasing as Israel enjoys the highest birth rate of any developed nation. However, the rate is still less than the ultra-Orthodox and the Israel Arabs.
Israel is a vibrant and prosperous country that has flourished thanks to the commitment and talents largely of the non-ultra-Orthodox people. It is these very people that have built the startup nation, propelling Israeli into a leadership position in the technology and science. And now is these same people that are standing in the way of the most extreme right-wing government Israel has ever known. Netanyahu’s government has many religious zealots, some of which are indicted criminals. It also contains members of the Settler Movement who believe in Greater Israel, including the West Bank. Some even believe in forcing the Arab population out. Moreover, it seems that Netanyahu wants to turn Israel into the country he proclaims to despise, Iran, in agreeing to give one of his ministers, Ben-Gvir, his own security force, the Israeli equivalent of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The Israeli political systems is very fragile having no constitution. The Netanyahu coalition seeks to exploit the weakness and it is only the Israeli people that have taken to the street in protest that can prevent this from happening.
Netanyahu himself is on trial for bribery, which is one reason he wants to take control of the judiciary. Many in his government represent people who have never worked, did not serve in the army, and spent their days praying and studying Torah, subsidized by the government. Israel is primarily secular but now lives under religious politicians’ thumb.
Sadly, many Israelis are now thinking they have to leave Israel. A large number are applying for citizenship in other countries. I doubt that they will retain their Jewish identification in the long run if they live to live elsewhere. It will be too dangerous. Antisemitism continues throughout the world. For instance, while Jews are less than 2% of the USA population, 58% of hate crimes are directed against Jews. Jews in France and the UK feel unsafe. There they suffer from the traditional antisemitism of Europe, amplified by a large influx of Muslim immigrants.
But then again, when I see the ongoing protest against the government, I am hopeful that Israel will survive as a democratic home of the Jewish People.
Hitler wanted to destroy the Jewish people. So how ironic is it that it may be Jews themselves that will accomplish that goal?
I hope every ultra orthodox Jewish person, especially in Israel, reads this article. I hope that your last sentence resonates with them.
They would never read what I wrote.
I think Israel was always at risk of becoming a theocracy. “A homeland for the Jews”, as you put it, is quite an abstract program but the actual location of Israel is anything but: it derives its justification from the Bible. It seems logical, if perhaps not entirely inevitable, that a state with theological underpinnings will eventually devolve into one run along theocratic lines.
I don’t agree with you. Israel was founded by Jews that were not religious. The country is largely secular. Most of its leaders were very secular including the current one, Netanyahu. 45% of Israelis identify as secular which is much higher than in the USA. The location of Israel is primarily part of the ancient Jewish nation which was significantly larger (that is one of the issues with the extreme right). The ultra orthodox are about 12% of the population of Israel but they get their political strength from the parliamentary structure where small parties can get outsized representation. You would do well by reading some books on the history of Israel if you are interested in this topic.
What is the real reason (history) for the antisemitism that exists, what are its roots? It seems less rational than the hatred and genocide in tribal countries.
Thank you for your question however, it will take a lot of effort to answer it completely. I think that many groups have suffered discrimination, and the reasons the Jews have been persecuted has very over time. The things that distinguishes antisemitism isn’t its causes, but the fact that Jews have survived so long in the face of it.