Why is the Jewish Agency’s Avi Mayer obsessed with race?

A plaque honoring Theodor Herzl in Budapest; Zionism’s founding father argued that a Jewish state in Palestine would bring “civilization” to a region characterized by “barbarism” (thausj).

Last December, Rania Khalek wrote an article for The Electronic Intifada about the “problematic” coverage of Israeli apartheid and the fight against it in US-based “progressive media outlets,” arguing that there was an “exclusion of Palestinian and Arab voices.”

Three months after its publication, a blogger at The Jerusalem Post decided to use this piece to attack Khalek as a “racist” — a ludicrous claim then taken up by Avi Mayer, head of social media at the Jewish Agency for Israel.  

Mayer claimed Khalek was guilty of “counting Jews,” accusing a “race-obsessed” Khalek of “classifying people by race or ethnic origin.” Though it was pointed out by others that Khalek was concerned not with “too many Jewish voices” but rather “with too few Arab and Palestinian ones,” Mayer did not retract his smears.

One of Mayer’s tweets in particular caught my eye:

Putting aside the misrepresentation of Khalek’s piece, it’s true that suggesting there are “too many” of a particular religious or racial group in “any given area” is indeed unpleasant — which makes Mayer’s claims all the more awkward given his job at the Jewish Agency.

“High demographic risk”

In 2003, the Jewish Agency’s board of governors expressed support for the Israeli government’s aim of attracting one million new Jewish immigrants, a goal motivated in part by “the need to maintain a Jewish majority in all regions of the country.”

That same year, the Jewish Agency’s treasurer Shai Hermesh spoke of the need for a “Zionist majority” in the country’s south, since “it is not in Israel’s interest to have more Palestinians in the Negev.” Hermesh also revealed that the organization’s plan to “settle new rural communities” was related to the higher “Bedouin birthrate.” In his own words:

Because the birthrate of the Bedouins and Arabs in the Galilee is much faster than the Jewish [birthrate], we are quickly losing our majority there.

What one might call “race-obsessed” counting is reinforced by Jewish Agency education materials, where in a short item titled “The Centrality of the Family in Israeli Culture,” the organization notes that “the Jewish state is demographically threatened and that one important task of the society is to decrease the demographic threat by having many children.”

In June 2004, another board of governors’ resolution committed the Jewish Agency to “strengthening the Galilee and the Negev” due to the “high demographic…risk” posed by the two regions. This is expressed more directly and explicitly in an online quiz, with one of the questions asking “What is the demographic problem which faces the Northern Galilee?” The answer: “Majority of Arab population over Jewish population.”

In materials on “Jewish settlement,” the Jewish Agency refers to the Galilee as having had “a large Arab population that had stayed in place in 1948.” The agency adds:

In large areas of the north, where Jewish settlement was fairly scarce, there was a substantial Arab minority. Occasional discomfort had been expressed over the situation through the years; Menachem Begin’s first government decided that the time had come to act.


One of the Jewish Agency’s responses to a situation where, to paraphrase Avi Mayer himself, there were “too many” Palestinians in a given area, was to help establish “look-out” communities. The goal of these mitzpim, according to a member of the “Jewish Agency hilltop planning team,” was:

to prevent Arabs from “taking over” government lands, keep Arab villages from attaining territorial continuity and attract a “strong” population to the Galilee.

The Jewish Agency’s views are clear. But what about Avi Mayer himself?

Does he share his employer’s focus on counting Jews and Palestinians? Does he have demographic nightmares?

In 2012, Mayer described a bi-national state as the equivalent of “mass suicide” for Israeli Jews (language he immediately and implausibly claimed was misinterpreted). Six years previously, Mayer had written a letter to his college paper, attacking a Combatants for Peace event on campus. Here he describes a “secular state” for Israelis and Palestinians as “morally unthinkable and utterly repugnant,” an “echo of ominous calls… from the darkest regions of the world.”

In a subsequent letter, Mayer returns to his attack on a single, democratic state for Jews and Palestinians, claiming that such a call “is identical in every way to the Iranian president’s vile calls for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map.’”

It is clear that for Mayer, Israeli Jews must never allow Palestinians to constitute a majority of the population. If there was any doubt where he is coming from, and why he feels at home in the birthrate and demographics-obsessed Jewish Agency, Mayer provides an insight into his thinking in a 2007 article on “Our Israel.”

Here Mayer describes Israel as “a beacon…in a region darkened by tyranny and fanaticism,” a “beleaguered outpost” surrounded by the “voices of hatred and intolerance… in Tehran and Damascus, Beirut and Gaza.” For Avi Mayer, Israel is “a shining city on a sand dune.”

This is the language of Zionism’s founding father Theodor Herzl, who in 1896 said a Jewish state in Palestine would be “an outpost of civilization against barbarism” and it is the language of Ehud Barak, who described Israel as “a villa in the jungle.” It is also, to put it mildly, not the language traditionally associated with committed anti-racists.


Ben White

Ben White's picture

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.