Statement of Purpose

21 במאי 2009

בימים אלו אני בודק אופציות ללימודים בחו"ל. כחלק מהפרוצדורה צריך להכין תיאור קצר של כוונותיך האקדמאיות. זו הטיוטה שהכנתי, אף על פי שסביר להניח שהגרסא המסויימת הזו לא תגיע לשולחנם של פרופסורים אמריקניים עטויי-טוויד:


In the summer of 2005, Israel evacuated all its civilians and military forces from the Gaza Strip. This unilateral withdrawal, termed “Disengagement” or Hitnatkut, was facilitated and executed by a right-wing government headed by Ariel Sharon, the onetime godfather of Israeli settlement in the OT. One of the commonest arguments in favor of the Disengagement was the so-called “demographic threat”, that is, the fear that the number of Palestinians under Israeli rule will exceed that of Israeli Jews. While the hawkish Sharon didn’t suddenly turn into a dove, he did reach the conclusion that it was necessary to sacrifice the ideal of the greater Land of Israel in favor of a Jewish majority under Israeli rule. This marks nothing less than a paradigm-shift in Israeli right-wing thought and in Israeli political thought in general: seen in tandem with the erection of the barrier wall and the legitimization of “population swaps”, a euphemism for transfer, the disengagement suggests that safeguarding the Jewish majority in the Jewish state has become the outmost imperative of Zionist politics, even at the price of giving up most of the OT.

Although it has only recently become so paramount, this demographic anxiety isn’t new. In the aftermath of World War II, the leaders of the Yeshuv, faced with the decimation of the European Jewry and an impending conflict with the Arabs, had to shift their focus to the Arab Jewry, rebranded Mizrachim, who became the new demographic reserve of the beleaguered Jewish state. Major demographic concerns, from the fate of European Jews, through the flight/deportation of the Palestinians and the massive immigration of Mizrachi Jews, riddle the decision-making of the Zionist leadership in those years, and those demographic decisions, which shaped not only the contours of the young Jewish state and its society but also the contours of the Israeli-Arab conflict, I intend to explore in the first part of my project.

 The second set of politico-demographic decisions I aim to explore takes place in the wake of the 1967 war, when, awash with religious and nationalistic fervor, the Eshkol Government had decided to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza strip, although it was fully aware, and anxious about, the burden of maintaining control over millions of hostile and embittered Palestinians refugees. My intention is to elaborate on the demographic reasoning used in the debates over the fate of the OT, and why and how it was trumped by an amalgam of religious, nationalistic and security argumentations. 

Finally, The Disengagement of summer 2005 should be seen as the complete reversal of summer 1967. At face-value the disengagement was devised to stall the peace process, but it also reflected a deeper, almost primal, fear: that the Jewish state would be taken over by non-Jews, not forcefully, but simply through the power accorded to a majority in a democratic regime. To avoid a scenario, provided by Israeli demographists, where the Palestinians under Israeli rule would become a majority, the Sharon government was willing to unilaterally forfeit the Gaza Strip and was planning further concessions in the West Bank. The fear of a non-Jewish majority not only ended the right-winged dream of a Greater Land of Israel, it has also facilitated the ascendency of a new secular and overtly ethnocentric Right, as evident in the results of the last elections, when Israel Beytenu, a political party espousing transfer and loyalty tests, became the third largest party in the Knesset

A genealogy of the “demographic threat” allows us not only to rethink some of the most crucial political decisions ever made by Zionist leaders, it also affords us the chance to deal with the deepest anxieties defining the Israeli psyche: the bio-politics of “who is a Jew”, the attitudes of Israeli Jews towards the Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens, and the tension between the Jewish aspect of the state of Israel and its democratic aspect. It is my aim to tackle those issues by re-interpreting the writings and decisions of the Zionist leadership, and hopefully shed some new light on Israeli mentality.