Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

The Unspeakable Exodus

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, June 22, 2010 --  

Emigration from Israel is currently unspeakable. Unless things change, it will soon be inevitable.

The deafening roar that erupted around Washington last month was the unexpected result of an off-hand comment. Helen Thomas, the grand-dame of the White House press corps, was asked by a rabbi if she had any comments about Israel. Never one to be quiet and demure, Thomas said "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," then offered Poland and Germany when asked where the Israelis should go.1

The outrage that followed was almost universal. Newspaper columnists, Jewish and gentile alike, lambasted Thomas for telling Holocaust survivors to return to the place of their peopleís slaughter. Outraged Washingtonians secured Thomasí forced retirement and successfully pressured Walt Whitman High School to cancel Thomasí planed commencement address.2 Though she later apologized for her comments, Thomas is now unceremoniously banished from the respectable inside the Beltway world.

While Tomas is far from the best spokesperson, the reality is that there is a tiny kernel of truth to what she said. No, residents of Israel should not move to the lands of the Holocaust. But for many Israeli Jews, it is absolutely incorrect to claim, as many folks attacking Thomas have claimed, that they have nowhere else to go.

One of the worst kept secrets in the American Jewish community is that many people hold dual American and Israeli citizenship. Israel understandably makes it extremely easy for Jewish foreigners to get an Israeli passport, and many Jewish Americans, perhaps millions of them, have done exactly that. This has created a virtual revolving door between Israel and the American Jewish community. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, for example, is an Israeli citizen, and even served in the Israeli Defense Forces during the Gulf War.3

A widely used, though poorly documented, estimate is that 250,000 U.S. citizens live in Israel.4 Without question, all of these people have the right to move to the United States, as do virtually all of their spouses and children, even if they do not themselves have U.S. citizenship. While those with family citizenship in the United States may be a minority of the 5.6 million Jews living in Israel, this strong link between the countries would serve as a springboard for millions of more Israelis to come to the United States if push really came to shove.

And push may come to shove sooner than people think. The threat to the state of Israel comes not from rockets launched from the Gaza strip, not from the Iranian nuclear program, and not even from blockade-running Gaza aid convoys. The real risk comes from demographics.

Sometime in the past few years, for the first time since Israelís founding, the lands under Israeli control ceased to have a Jewish majority. Higher Palestinian birthrates have swelled the population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As of this year, 2.5 million people live in the West Bank and 1.6 million in the Gaza Strip, according to the CIA World Factbook.5. When combined with the 1.8 million non-Jewish people (largely Arab Palestinian citizens) in Israel proper, this brings the total non-Jewish population to 5.9 million, compared with a Jewish population of 5.6 million.6

The consequences of this recent population shift are so grave that it is shocking that it has not been widely discussed. The Jewish state now finds itself in the morally dubious position of an ethnic minority ruling over a Palestinian majority. For a country that regularly invokes its democratic credentials to support its legitimacy, this is a serious blow.

Worse yet, the only near-term chance Israel has to regain its Jewish majority -- a two state solution -- is vehemently opposed by the head-in-the-sand Israeli government. Unless it jettisons the occupied territories, the Israeli state will have to abandon all pretenses of democracy and desperately try to maintain its rule over the new and growing Palestinian majority with an apartheid-like regime.

This emerging crisis of legitimacy may seem less serious to American dual citizens -- they have a built in backup plan. But about 70 percent of Israeli Jews were born in Israel7, and those without direct U.S. ties would be in a very bad position should the Israeli experiment turn sour.

If and when this happens, those who can will emigrate. Not to Germany and Poland, as Helen Thomas suggested, but to the welcoming arms of America. For Israeli Jews without a blue passport, itís high time to plan an exit strategy.

Related Web Columns:

Abandoning a Sinking Ship, April 16, 2002


1. Washington Post, I asked Helen Thomas about Israel. Her answer revealed more than you think, June 20, 2010

2. Ibid., Helen Thomas never shied from piping up. In the end, that was the problem, June 8, 2010

3. Telegraph, Rahm Emanuel expected to quit White House, June 20, 2010

4. American Israeli Action Coalition, as posted June 22, 2010

5. CIA World Factbook, as posted June 22, 2010

6. Author's calculations based on CIA World Factbook Figures:

Israel Population: 7,353,985

Percentage Jewish: 76.4

Israeli Jewish Population: 7,353,985 (0.764) = 5,618,445

Israeli Non-Jewish Population: 7,353,985 - 5,618,445 = 1,735,541

West Bank Population: 2,514,845

Gaza Population: 1,604,238

Total Non-Jewish Population in Israel and the Territories: 1,604,238 + 2,514,845 + 1,735,541 = 5,854,624

7. Jewish Virtual Library, Latest Population Figures for Israel, as posted, June 22, 2010