Israel’s demography obsession has historical echo

Yesterday I blogged about the Israeli High Court’s decision to uphold a law that splits families by denying the right of Palestinian citizens to live with a spouse from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I wrote a subsequent op-ed for Al Jazeera, published last night, drawing out the connections between this law and recently passed anti-migrant legislation. The common thread in both cases is an obsession with ‘demographics’, and, in the words of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the need to “defend the Jewish majority”.

Subsequent responses to the ruling have shown the racist priorities shaping the law. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin suggested that citizens who wanted to marry non-citizen Palestinians would have to move to “the other side” – a call repeated by MK Tzipi Hotovely, who said such couples “can be united in Ramallah”.

The explicit contextualisation of the Citizenship Law in terms of racial separation and demographics is an opportunity for seeing just what it means for Israel to be a ‘Jewish state’. Kadima MK Otniel Schneller noted approvingly that the High Court ruling expressed “the rationale of separation between the (two) peoples and the need to maintain a Jewish majority and the (Jewish) character of the state”.

Revealingly, Schneller also linked this to support for the idea of “two states for two peoples”, and commented that nullifying the law “would have turned Israel into a state of all its citizens”.

This obsession with demography and separation has a historical precedent of course, and I was reminded of it when I saw the following headline on the website of UK tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail.

There was a time when similar headlines appeared in Western newspapers - when South Africa’s apartheid regime also worried over birth rates, demography, and the risk that equality could mean ‘national suicide’.

South African leaders over the decades repeated the same rhetoric, like when Prime Minister Daniel Malan warned in 1953 that “equality…must inevitably mean to white South Africa nothing less than national suicide”. A few years earlier, in 1948, the National Party told the country that “either we must follow the course of equality, which must eventually mean national suicide for the White race, or we must take the course of separation”.

This is now the refrain of Zionists, both extremist and liberal, and like in South Africa, it leaves the same bitter taste in the mouth.




Great article and fantastic examples, Ben. I just wish you would have referenced the source and dates of those headlines.


re dates/sources.

1. UPI, 9 October 1962
2. AP, 28 February 1968
3. AP, 30 July 1986

Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.