Photo: AP
Powerful army
Photo: AP

Stronger than we think

Israel’s growing population makes ‘few against many’ cliche outdated

Amongst the statistics released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on the eve of Rosh Hashana, especially obvious was the bottom line: There are just about 7 million people here, 6.8 million to be exact.


The report then went on to outline the breakdown of our population, such as the percentage of Jews (a bit over 75 percent) and their relatively small population growth, which stood at about 1.8 percent during the Jewish year 5765. This was due, of course, to falling numbers of immigration from the former Soviet Union.


Close to 7 million people is no small number. If Israel were in Europe, there would be countries below us on the population graph - and no, I don't mean Cypress or Malta. Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Croatia and Slovenia all have fewer people than Israel. Switzerland and Bulgaria have a few hundred thousand more, and Sweden and Greece aren't far off.


Natural growth in these and most Western European countries is significantly lower than 1.8 percent, and in some places is even negative.


These numbers are very significant. Today's Israel has a strong domestic market - as proved by the number of banks, cellular companies, and many television channels.


And despite falling numbers of recruits, the IDF remains a huge army in terms of number of troops and technological prowess.


David vs. Goliath?


But ask most Israelis and they would be probably be shocked to hear that our population is 50 percent larger that Ireland or Lithuania. When Israel plays Ireland in soccer, most of us view the match as a sort of David vs. Goliath.


More than a few things are explained here by the fact we’re a “small nation,” ranging from the relative lack of important scientific discoveries to ongoing Olympic failure.


This discrepancy stems from not only from ignorance, but also from a domestic ethos, carefully developed despite being outdated.


"The few against the many" and "a small, scrappy people" are but two of the cliches upon which the Israeli world leans. They foster national pride, upon which we enter euphoria of our most minor accomplishments, and we explain away our failures.


These strengthen our self-justifications for any injustice we may commit. We are the little guy, who barely survived an unprecedented Holocaust. Everything is permitted to us.


These statements drive national fear, which prevents just about all serious discussion in Israel.


Ignoring the issues


We must not deal with the question of Israeli citizenship, a common denominator that could turn Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, strong and weak into one community. We'll deal with all these questions when we are strong and secure. In other words, never.


This is not to say Israel is not threatened, even existentially. But in order to deal with the real threat and to know how to discern what's important and weed out the less important, we must internalize the actual picture: We have a very strong country. Internalizing this reality might allow both ordinary citizens and government to use this strength to deal with real problems, rather than to hide behind weak and dangerous excuses.


פרסום ראשון: 10.19.05, 12:45
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