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Why Israel Can't Import Millions Jews

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s report on the number of potential Jews around the world discusses numbers of a size and scale not normally associated with our faith. We’re used to hearing about eight million Jews in Israel, six million victims of the Holocaust, a few-hundred thousand Jews in this country and a few hundred in another.

But if we’re to believe the Diaspora Ministry, there are 35 million people around the world with “known affinities for Judaism” and no less than 60 million more who are "descendants of Jews, descendants of forced converts, and additional communities with an affinity to the Jewish people but are not currently declaring so or are unaware of it."

I’m not sure how someone could have an affinity for the Jewish people but not be aware of it. Has the Diaspora Ministry peered into their souls and detected some unmoored molecules of Yiddishkeit  inside their cerebrums?

In any case, these are big numbers, and the report urges an enlarged budget for the ministry to make contact with these millions, teach them about Jewish culture, Zionism and Hebrew, and recruit them for the battle against BDS.

If this is not a ridiculous enough waste of resources at a time when the real Jewish communities of the diaspora are succumbing to assimilation and are growing distant from Israel, the report also suggests that some of these millions could immigrate to Israel after conversion.

O distant brothers, where art thou?

Israel is the Jewish homeland and should welcome any Jew who choose to live here (assuming it’s not in order to escape justice in their home countries). The Law of Return is pretty liberal in defining who is a Jew. But the Diaspora Ministry is going a silly step further and saying we should create Jews so they can make aliyah.

I suspect the notion of this mass immigration is to tip the demographic balance in favor of Jews and enable us to keep the West Bank while ensuring a Jewish majority. But Israel’s real problem isn’t how many Jews versus how many Arabs live between the river and the sea. It's how many people this little strip of parched territory can hold at all.

There are already about 8.5 million people in Israel’s pre-1967 borders (Jews and Israeli Arabs) plus 4.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. That makes us one of the most crowded places on earth. Israel’s population density of about 358 people per square kilometer is the third-highest in the developed world not counting microstate states like Monaco. In the West Bank and Gaza, the population density of 756 per square kilometer is among the highest in the world.

The Netherlands and Belgium pack even more people into their borders, but they are better able to accommodate them. Israel is one-third desert and our water resources are strained as it is.

Climate change is going to make it even rougher in the decades ahead. Israel and the Middle East are especially vulnerable to the creeping desertification. Moreover, Israeli women are producing babies are double the rate that their sisters and Europe do, and there’s no sign that this will be changing anytime soon.

Stuck in traffic

The National Economic Council says Israel’s population could grow as much as by two thirds by the year 2040 – and that doesn’t include the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The NEC assumes a moderate rate of net immigration of about 19,000 annually, but imagine if the pool of potential immigrants were double or even triple what it is now because the Diaspora Ministry engages in a mass campaign to Judaize millions of people?

As it is the country’s roads are so packed that its takes 30% longer than it did a decade ago to commute to work.  More than 10% of Israel north of Be’er Sheva is now built-up with homes, factories, stores and offices. About approximately10 square kilometers more land is paved and cemented over every year to accommodate the growing need for housing. Even cemeteries now sport multistory graves to accommodate the ever-growing number of dead.

At least, we have the technology and the financial resources to cope with the worst of the strains that come with crowdedness. The Palestinians do not and their problems will become ours in short order, even if they one day get their state, because we share the same water sources.

And, there are limits to what technology can do and even greater limits to what it can to ensure an acceptable quality of life. We can desalinate more water, build higher buildings, use more public transportation and self-driving cars, and rely more on solar power instead of fossil fuel. Assuming all this technology is developed in time and at a reasonable cost, we could turn Israel into a Manhattan Island or a Hong Kong that functions, but is that what we want?

The Diaspora Ministry’s proposal to tap the resources of quasi-Jews  around the globe is a fantasy, but it’s a good starting point to ask some serious questions about who is a Jew, what is the role of Israel in the world Jewish community and the future of Israel.

The ministry’s answers are all backward-looking – more immigration and a bigger Israel at all costs, even a lower quality of life. It’s all stuff out of the playbook from the Ben-Gurion era. The future is going to be more about the limits of the environment and a place where Jews want to live, not escape to.

David Rosenberg