Before coming to Israel I was well aware of the many security issues it faced and how they would continue to cast Israel as a pariah state in the eyes of many as long as they remain unresolved. However, I also thought Israel was an impressively advanced country, punching far and above its weight in a whole host of agricultural, medical and other science related fields. Not to mention that Israel is the supposed beacon of liberal democracy and freedom in an otherwise undemocratic and oppressive neighbourhood. All these factors pointed towards a future which, if it could resolve its security issues, would ultimately leave the country with a bright and prosperous future.
This was all before I arrived and fully grasped not only the futility of the peace process but also the huge divisions within the country that work to stifle the future prospects of prosperous and egalitarian Israel. Op-ed pieces abound in Haaretz about the perilous future that awaits this; here is an extract from just one that was this week’s Haaretz by Ron Lehman, “War Over the Homeland“:
Twenty years from now, most of Israel’s young people will be ultra-orthodox or Arabs. […] It may be unconceivable, but it is certainly possible that in 30 years we’ll be living in an unenlightened third-world country, subject to the Torah law as interpreted by extremist rabbis who gradually, in a series of small steps, turn out the lights.
It’s depressing to think that all the hard work that has gone into making this country, could all be squandered as the religious right exert their increasing power and while the Arab population remain segregated – either overtly or due to their own accord. Attempting to win the demographic battle by “importing” more and more secular Jews from around the world is merely denying the statistical facts that are clear to see.
As a non-Israeli should I really be worrying about whatever lies ahead? Sure, I am going to be living here for the next few years and would like to think that a prosperous country such as Israel would draw in the international companies and investment that will help me get a decent job. But as the ultra-orthodox have recently shown, they are becoming increasingly able to dissuade non-Shabbat obeying international corporations from investing in Jerusalem area and the rest the Israel. See Ultra-orthodox protesters target Intel. And not to mention the way a growing ultra-orthodox population would undoubtedly hinder peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians.
I can only guess that this demographic battle can be won by a) engaging with the more moderate ultra-orthodox groups, offering them ways to integrate with the rest of Israeli society, and b) any successful peace plan with the Palestinians must be coupled with an honest attempt by both Israeli-Jews and Israeli-Arabs to reconcile differences and work to create an integrated multicultural society where Israeli-Arabs genuinely have something to gain from participating in mainstream Israeli life and vice-versa.