There are a lot of strange things about this op-ed, which tries to paper over the gap between a reasonable call for Israel to treat its minority citizens more fairly and a highly unreasonable call for Israel to integrate the populations of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Palestinian diaspora into one state that by some magic she doesn’t identify will still somehow not only remain culturally Jewish, but with the assent of what would likely be a strong majority Arab population.
To take one example of the oddity of this op-ed, the author argues that rising income and exposure to technology is leading to permanently lower birthrates among Arabs in Israel. A sentence later, she notes that the Jewish birthrate is rising as the Arab birthrate is falling. But wait, don’t Israeli Jews also have rising income and exposure to technology? It’s not often one sees simplistic cause and effect analysis self-rebutted a sentence later. (And by the way, why unlike among almost all other population groups in the world the Israeli Jewish birthrate is rising, including and especially among the non-religious population, is a fascinating question that deserves, but to my knowledge has not received, some serious research attention).
But the really bizarre line in Greenfield’s op-ed is this one: “Many Jewish Israelis subscribe to the unfortunate demographic myth that high birth rates among Arabs and Ethiopians mean that they will soon outnumber Jews of other national and racial origins.”
No one doubts that the Ethiopian Jews have faced some racial discrimination, with those difficulties compounded by the fact that arrived in a high-tech country from a very low-tech society, and by the fact that their version of Judaism has many idiosyncracies that separate their practices from the Israeli (and world) Jewish mainstream. But while they’ve have some trouble integrating, it’s also true that I don’t know of any country in the world that has organized several airlifts, a massive clandestine operation, and more, to bring a hundred thousand or so Black African refugees to their country and offer them immediate citizenship, with widespread support from the public. In other words, the Ethiopians are Jews, everyone accepts them as Jews (though the rabbinical authorities require a symbolic conversion to alleviate doubts about their status under Jewish law), they serve in the army, get circumcised by mohels, married and buried by rabbis, and it is expected that, like Yemenite Jews and other dark-skinned immigrants from backwards countries before them, they they will eventually totally integrate into the Israeli mainstream–a sentiment noted, in fact, in the very New York Times article she links to about discrimination against Ethiopian Jews. So it’s just bizarre for Greenfield to suggest that Israeli Jews somehow worry that a combination of Ethiopian Jews and Arabs are going to overwhelm them, as if the two groups are somehow perceived to be allied. (Some Israelis, especially among the Orthodox, do worry that a combination of Arabs, intermarried Israeli Jews with spouses from abroad, “Russians” who are not Jewish under Jewish law, guest workers, and refugees are going to eventually make Jews by Orthodox definition a minority in Israel, but that has nothing to do with Ethiopian Jews).
What Greenfield must be alluding to is the scandal that was revealed in late 2012, that Israeli medical authorities were pushing Depo Provera shots on Ethiopian immigrant women who did not always understand exactly what was going on, were often treated with cultural insensitivity, and were not given the individualized family planning advice and attention that they should have. To attribute this, however, to a fear that the Ethiopians (all 130,000 of them, out of an Israeli population of over 8 million!) combined with the Arabs were going to overwhelm Israeli Jews of other ethnicities, however, is nonsense.
This was instead a case of secular, high-handed medical authorities sanctimoniously deciding that they knew better than the Ethiopians themselves how to run their lives, and that one way of helping them integrate was to strongly encourage birth control to bring their family size down from Ethiopian norms to Western/Israeli norms. (And a more sympathetic take on this is that using Depo Provera shots undermined the ability of Ethiopian men, products of an often violently patriarchal society, to force a traditionally large family on their wives; unlike birth control pills, the husbands wouldn’t have any control over, or potentially even knowledge of, the shots, and that most of the women involved willingly took the shots for exactly that reason.) Unfortunately, Israeli officials behaved in similarly high-handed ways to Mizrahi (Eastern) Jewish immigrants in the 1940s and 50s, creating resentments that last to this day. But in both cases, the motivating force was the bureaucratic elite engaging in secretive policies to try to “Westernize” immigrants from Third World countries, not widespread fear of demographic change; if the latter had been the issue, the Israeli public wouldn’t have supported the very expensive efforts to bring these immigrants to the country to begin with! And indeed, once the Depo-Provera scandal was revealed, public outcry led to an immediate halt.
Which makes one wonder what Greenfield’s credentials are to be writing this op-ed. She’s a psychology professor at UCLA who has no Israel-related publications on her c.v. The languages she has used in research, we are told, are French, Spanish, Tzotzil, Wolof–no Hebrew, Arabic, or Amharic. Apparently, she spent part of last Summer working with a team of Israeli Jewish and Muslim researchers on a continuing project studying rapid social change among Arabs in Northern Israel, Bedouin in southern Israel, and Ethiopian Jews, and how they are integrating in society. This, she implies, makes her an expert not just on these groups, but on the future of the West Bank and Gaza, the “right of return,” and whether Israel should have a state religion (she doesn’t seem aware that Israel does not, in fact, have an official state religion now, confusing that issue with whether Israel should continue to be a “Jewish state,” i.e., the state of the Jews), and so on. A little knowledge, as they say, is a dangerous thing.