Israel in danger of defeat by demographics, editor says

Israel is facing a demographic change that could be "cataclysmic" in the next five to 10 years, according to David Landau, editor of the English edition of Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper.

Landau discussed the challenges facing Israel and the American Jewish community Sunday during "A Celebration of Jewish Learning in the Bay Area," organized by the University of Judaism in honor of Israel's 55th birthday. The symposium, held at Congregation Beth Israel-Judea in San Francisco, was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council.

During a panel discussion, Landau posited that Israel is endangered by the demographics of Jews and Palestinians. Within the next 10 years, he said, Palestinians will outnumber Israeli Jews in the combined territory of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. At that point, Landau predicted, Palestinians will drop their demand for a two-state solution and insist on "one man, one vote."

"Israel is in imminent danger of defeat by the demographic trend confronting us," he said. "Those of you who believe, as I do, that our future resides in a just compromise and peace, please speak up."

Landau chastised the audience for not visiting Israel.

"We suffer the fact that through 30 months of intifada, American Jews have not come to visit," he said. "Staying away at this time erodes our solidarity."

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, moderated the discussion. The two other panelists were Nadav Morag, incoming director of the Center for Israel Studies at the University of Judaism, and Steven Spiegel, associate director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations.

Morag briefly addressed tactics of the Israeli military in the current conflict, maintaining that Israeli military presence in the West Bank may need to continue until there is a "generational change" in Palestinian leadership. He also claimed that Israel's policy of keeping military troops active in Palestinian cities is making it much more difficult for terrorists to operate, and has been effective in thwarting many terrorist operations.

"The situation prior to this was intolerable," Morag said.

He acknowledged that most Palestinians are innocent civilians, and that innocents sometimes get hurt despite the Israeli army's best efforts at making "surgical strikes." However, the government's primary concern is to protect its own citizens, he said.

"The Israeli government was elected to preserve the rights of Israeli citizens, not to be Amnesty International."

Spiegel discussed the Bush administration's attitude toward the conflict, and the role of American Jews vis-a-vis its "road map" for peace. According to Spiegel, the White House sees Jews as being against the map. Pointing out that most of the early tasks in the agreement fall on the Palestinians, he described it as a good deal because it's "cost-free."

"Israel has seven steps to complete, some of which are almost trivial," he said.

Israel is required to dismantle the new illegal "outpost" settlements created since 2001, stop deportations and cease the demolition of Palestinian housing — steps that it has already agreed to take, Spiegel added, once Palestinian violence stops completely.

"There are those in the American Jewish community opposed to any concessions," he noted. "They managed to convince Congress and the White House that all Jews believe this."

Spiegel exhorted the audience — as American Jews — to convince the White House that they're in favor of the road map. He believes President Bush has had a hard time "staying the issue" or keeping on track regarding Mideast peace negotiations.

"To me, the important statistics are what the Israeli population wants," said Spiegel, citing polls that most Israelis on both the left and right support the road map unveiled by President Bush.

Landau agreed with Spiegel that many American Jews are being "spoken for" by more right-wing Jews and said the term "pro-Israel" has been "hijacked" to mean "pro-occupation."

He described a two-state solution as the only solution that makes sense, adding, "The Jews in America who are the movers and the shakers of the organizations seem to have become persuaded that the Jewish community opposes peace based on compromise."

As for the road map to peace, Landau belittled the issue altogether, calling it an unimportant detail and full of jargon.

"I feel as if I'm on the Titanic," he said as the other two panelists debated the issue. He also expressed skepticism about Israel fulfilling its side of the equation.

"Do you, in all honesty, see any signs of freezing settlements?" he asked the other panelists. "I see many statements by [Ariel] Sharon — he talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk."