Former envoy denies ‘demographic threat’

Former envoy denies ‘demographic threat’

Yoram Ettinger thinks ‘conventional wisdom’ overcounts the Arabs

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Yoram Ettinger said that “demographic scaremongering” has played a key role in a campaign to “infect Jews with faintheartedness and fatalism.”
Yoram Ettinger said that “demographic scaremongering” has played a key role in a campaign to “infect Jews with faintheartedness and fatalism.”

Yoram Ettinger is not convinced by the argument that unless Israel and the Arabs move quickly to create a two-state solution the Jews will soon be a minority in Israel. 

Eager to bust what he calls the “conventional so-called wisdom and reality,” the former Israeli diplomat is a founder and member of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group. It provides data refuting the notion that, by factoring in Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli Jews will soon be outnumbered in territories it controls.

“Demographic scaremongering has played a key role in the sustained campaign to infect Jews with faintheartedness and fatalism, dissuading Jews from settling the Land of Israel, and luring Israel to concede the historically and militarily critical high ground of Judea and Samaria,” Ettinger, a former Likud activist, wrote in a December post to his blog. 

Ettinger, the former minister for congressional affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, will present “Israel: How Real Are the Threats?” on Monday, Feb. 15, at the JCC of Central NJ in Scotch Plains.

The program is sponsored by the Israel Support Committee of Central NJ, whose members come from six Union County synagogues. 

Ettinger questions whether data gleaned from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and relied upon by a number of international organizations are reliable or accurate. Its “flawed” practices, he told NJJN in a phone conversation, understate the Jewish fertility rate while overstating that of the Arabs, miscalculate Arab emigration and Jewish immigration figures, and disregard the likelihood of “significant waves” of aliya. 

Ettinger relies instead on data provided by AIDRG, reducing the number of Palestinians in the West Bank by as much as a full one million. 

While some have embraced the new figures, many academics dismiss them out of hand. “I stand behind the Palestinian statistics,” Arnon Soffer, who holds the Reuven Chaikin Chair in Geostrategy at Haifa University, told The Times of Israel in January. Famed Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola was even harsher in his condemnation of Ettinger’s claims that the Palestinian birthrate is not much higher than the Jews’. “Since [Ettinger] receives money to say that Israel should never leave the territories, he tries to deny these facts, claiming that in the future the birthrate will change,” DellaPergola told The Times of Israel. “That’s possible. But in the present, it is what it is. He’s peddling some imaginary future in an utterly unprofessional way, because he never took a course in demographics.”

Demographics is just one area in which Ettinger finds it necessary to differentiate between myths and facts when it comes to Israel. Others include everything from the impact of BDS to evaluating American presidential candidates. Much of his perspective is informed by his nationalist positions, which include a united Jerusalem and retention of lands held by Israel outside the pre-1967 borders.

In assessing U.S. presidential candidates, Ettinger told NJJN he is less interested in whether a candidate “displays an understanding of or support for critical issues like Jerusalem, the settlements, Judea and Samaria, and the Golan Heights” than “what they think about a reunited versus a partitioned Jerusalem, and what they think of the American reflection of power.” 

Despite the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement’s push on college campuses, Ettinger does not believe it is having much of an impact on Israel’s economy. “It ain’t the first or the last [anti-Israel campaign], and it ain’t the worst,” he said. Whatever it is accomplishing “certainly does not reflect any significant percentage of Israel’s global trade balance,” he said. 

According to his figures, trade with Turkey has increased from $2.5 billion in 2009 to more than $5 billion in 2015. China’s investment in Israel’s tech sector grew from $70 million to $2.7 billion between 2010 and 2015. 

He pointed out that The Economist reported in January 2015 that Israel’s trade deficit shrank for the third year in a row. “Israel has become a power in the balance of global trade by finding unique niches in defense and commercial technology,” he said. “Other countries, even those that do not like Israel, do not miss that fact.”

But that doesn’t mean he thinks Israel doesn’t face real existential threats. 

“We reside in the most violent, intolerant neighborhood, in the most unpredictable and treacherous neighborhood. We live in a neighborhood where the presence of weapons of mass destruction depends only on one thing: the will of manufacturing countries to provide them,” he said. “Therefore, within days or months, we could face the most destructive military systems anywhere in the world.” 

And if he thinks fewer people share the land than others might insist, he still notes that it is a small land.

“Our size is less than midget,” he said. “We do not have land reserves to lean on if we make any disastrous mistakes in military or diplomatic decisions. We face existential threats every single day.”

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