w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Beware the demographic demon

By Meron Benvenisti

Every now and then, with inexplicable timing, we suddenly encounter rumors that the demographic demon - the one that lies in the recesses of the Arab woman's womb - has raised its head once again and is threatening to wipe out, God forbid, the entire Zionist enterprise.

No one has actually seen the demon, but it is well-known that the power of demons and evil spirits stems from their being hidden to the eyes of laymen and evident only to exorcists and necromancers. The demographic demon is particularly powerful because it is not simply a frightening character riding a pitchfork, but is made up of statistical data, mathematical definitions and learned probabilities. Who can deny a scientific demon who makes threats with the sharp weapon of "fertility rates?"

This demon has managed to embed itself in the spirit world of people of all beliefs and opinions - rightists and leftists, religious and secular, settlers and those who hate them, supporters of the Geneva initiative and condemners of Oslo. Everyone makes use of the demographic threat as overriding proof of their righteousness, and only the Arabs (and perhaps a few marginal Jews) shake their heads and say it is not a demon, but a scarecrow, and that the fear is an expression of hatred of the other, which gives off more than just an odor of racism.

But who pays any attention to those who belittle the demographic demon, those whose only purpose, so it appears, is to anesthetize the public about the concrete danger to the existence of the Jewish nation in its land, which is losing the demographic majority and thus becoming a minority community, like in the Diaspora?

The demon is so terrible - and so many campaigns have already been waged against it - that the collection of charms and oaths that have been prepared to combat it could fill entire volumes. An incomplete summary of all the magical oaths includes the following items: disengagement from all the areas populated by Arabs and the annexation of all of the settlements; disengagement from Gaza only; cancellation of the annexation of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem; removing Wadi Ara and "the small Triangle" from the boundaries of the State of Israel; a prohibition on granting Israeli citizenship in the framework of the reunification of Arab families; discrimination when it comes to child-allowance grants; a non-selective immigration policy with regard to doubtful Jews; and efforts to make things difficult for Jews to emigrate to Western countries so as to force them to move to Israel against their will.

And when all this doesn't help, and the demographic balance deteriorates, out comes the magical tool against which the demon is helpless: A public declaration of its non-existence is made, and the disc on which the "demographic threat" is based is smashed to bits, just like the ancient Egyptians, who smashed clay tablets bearing the names of their enemies as a magical way of destroying them.

This brilliant trick is very simple. After all, the demographic demon data is produced by the Palestinian Authority's bureau of statistics, about which one can readily say that it is not a firm believer in political objectivity, and that perhaps its scientific reliability isn't perfect either.

All the excitement came about only because the right-wing circles discovered that the demographic demon had been abducted from them, and is being used by others to justify the evacuation of the Gaza Strip; and if the demon doesn't serve the purposes of the right, one has to pretend that it doesn't exist.

The left, in a reversal of roles, is now nurturing the paranoia of the "demographic demon" and writing its own charm for it: a withdrawal from populated territories while continuing to discriminate collectively against the Arab citizens of Israel.

Soon, when the demographic demon demands reference that will finally connect the head count (the statistics) to the hand count (the democracy), and it becomes impossible to evade the dilemma of a Jewish or democratic state, the ultimate charm will be written, and it will exorcise the demon from the womb of the Arab woman and denounce the touting of the demographic scarecrow as an act of racism.