Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Feb. 11: Israel's Other Demographic Problem

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Israel 2009 is the United States of America 2000, more or less.

The country is probably the most divided it's ever been. That was reflected in yesterday's elections.

Blame Jewish demographics.

For the first 30 or so of the state of Israel's 60 years, its leadership and constituency was made up largely of first- and second-generation Jews from Europe and Russia - many of whom escaped the Holocaust and Russia pogroms. They were the people who came of age working on Israel's kibbutzim, the communal farms where they shared the jobs and the goods. Some idealists came by way of America, where they learned about the ways of democracy.

Even through ongoing wars with Arab nations and more recently Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel became a success in agriculture, health care, technology and energy, among other things.

What John Steinbeck once wrote about the United States can apply to Israel as well:

"Now we face the danger which in the past has been most destructive to the human: success-plenty, comfort, and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers."

And these are Jews, who have survived almost everything.

There is a domestic population shift taking place in Israel. The Jews who built the country are dying or have shifted careers. The hopes of many went with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

Israel's immigrants over the last 30 years have included a mix of Soviet Refuseniks, refugees from Arab countries and Orthodox Jews from the United States. That combination tends to be more right-wing and less sympathetic or open-minded to Arabs, secular Jews or anything resembling a peace process.

Get ready for Israel's version of the George W. Bush administration - and further delay in the peace process, just as the United States is beginning to get its own act together on foreign policy.

Is there an Israeli version of Barack Obama in the house?

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