The issue of demographics is a central, underlying river beneath the tensions of the middle east conflict. The original Zionist vision of a new homeland founded by wave after wave of Jewish imigration, enshrined racial/religious demographics as a central tenet of identity (compared to say, America, wherethe central tenet is equal representation irrespective of race or religion). That also formed the moral rationalization for driving out the Palestinian occupants in 1948, and the subsequent refusal to discuss right of return, under the straw man argument that it would "destroy the Jewish state".

An article today on Ha'aretz discusses how the subtext of demographics has been brought to the forefront, as Israeili academics on the left and teh right try to reconcile the notion of Israel as a "Jewish" state with the notion that Israel is a "democratic" state. By American standards, Israel is not yet a democracy. The solutions presented to the Israeili public essentially are binary: transfer (from eth right), or separation (from the left). Both are doomed as long as Israel insists on a demographic aspect of its identity, which is essentially the heart of the paradox. :

"Transfer Now," a placard that is now posted on every empty wall throughout the country - is the decisive answer from one side; a binational state is the less popular answer from the other side of the political fence.

"It's frightening when Jews talk about demography," says Dr. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "There were those who believed that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 solved the problem. Now they are discovering to their dismay a reality in which the Jews will always be a minority in the Middle East." By "they," Raz-Krakotzkin means the Israeli left. As he sees it, the left's view of the world is based on a demographic principle, just like the worldview of transfer.

"The peace discourse of the Israeli left in fact proposes getting rid of the Arabs, and therefore it sounds exactly like the talk of transfer," he argues. "I share the sense of anxiety among the Jewish public in Israel. It is justified. I am in fact thinking about Jewish existence, but I refuse to think about it in demographic terms. The binational framework is the only one that allows the separation of Jewish existence from the demographic issue. In demography, the Jews are losing. It exposes all the internal contradictions of Zionism. The binational approach is aimed at solving this problem, and there really are Arabs who accuse me of supporting binationalism in order to preserve the Jewish people."

Again, the idea of a binational state neatly circumvents the paradox by disassociating the concept of Jewishness from demographic concerns.

One of the reasons that I think a binational state is the only solution is because it is based on eth American idea, that Identity is something that is shared as a nation, not a religion. I reject the notion that religion is the founding basis for a democracy. Not to say a non-democratic religious state could not work, after all, look at the Mughal period of Indian history or the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt.

The Jewish people don't need to enshrine the state of Israel as a bulwark for Judaism, and tie the fate of their faith into a nationalistic framework. In America, we have a strong Christian dominance of the government yet other religions, like my own, thrive here as they have nowhere else in the world. The conservative right is correct in that the philosophy of this country was influenced (not derived) by religious thought. Islam has likewise formed a basis of influence in successful nations and empires in the past.

The very concept of Separation of Church and State ensures that religion thrives, and that the best aspects of religion are integrated and harnessed as a positive force in society rather than used as a tool for control and oppression (like medieval England or the Taliban). Even if you staunchly oppose the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance (a nonlegal nongovernmental nonbinding document), you have to admit that the debate over the actions of the 9th Circuit court did foster robust and detailed analysis.

That's what Israel needs. To separate out church and state, not from givernment but from the very fabric of Israel's concept of self-identity. Doing so will benefit Judaism and Jews more than any other group.

The idea of reunification is a dificult one. I recognize that there are practical arguments against a binational state - and I do not dismiss them lightly. The point of this blog is principled pragmatism, after all.

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