The Limits Of Demographic Arguments

One issue frequently circulating in center-left Jewish circles in America, and often loudly touted by Kadima politicians in Israel, is the “demographic argument” about the need to end the occupation of Palestinian territories. The way this works, basically, is that Israel will someday cross a magical line when Arabs become a majority of the population and this will be devastating for Israel’s claims to democratic status. I think this undersells the range of policy options available to right-wing Israeli governments. An email I got over the weekend makes the point clear:

Just had something of a crazy idea: couldn’t the Gaza Strip theoretically become its own country? (how, I don’t know – but if possible, bordering the ocean for starters doesn’t hurt) If yes, then Jewish citizens of Greater Israel (Israel, West Bank, Golan Heights) would still greatly outnumber the population of Muslims in the same territory. Assuming the muslim demographics don’t rapidly outpace the Israelis (CIA World Fact Book would suggest this), then the Israelis could theoretically grant the vote to everyone in the West Bank and keep a Jewish State.

My current very rough estimate (based off of the CIA World Fact Book) guesstimates there are 6.086MM Jews & 3.189MM Muslims in these areas. If the Jewish Israelis could be assured that they will maintain at least a 60% majority (currently 65.6% – CIA) into the foreseeable future, this could work for Likud, no?

I suspect that over time you’ll see something like this happen. The Israeli government will disavow any claim to sovereignty over the Gaza Strip. They’ll count on public opinion in Egypt to ensure some level of integration across the Gaza-Egypt land border, and then they’ll wash their hands of the whole thing. Nobody’s going to give West Bank Palestinians the vote (if anything, the trends in Israeli politics point toward diminished civil rights for the Palestinians who already have Israeli citizenship) but this will solve the Jewish majority problem. That, however, is just a reminder that there really is no Jewish majority problem. The problem is that the Israeli government wants to exercise sovereignty over the West Bank without granting citizenship to its Arab residents. That its Arab residents are a minority of the total population over which Israel exercises sovereignty is neither here nor there and it’s a mistake to make any practical or moral arguments hinge on the idea of a 50 percent tipping point.