Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has released its population data for 2012, the year that just ended. As usual, the trends are favorable. The total Israeli population rose to just under eight million, while the Jewish population for the first time rose to just over six million.
Naturally, the number has a certain resonance. Aside from the grim Holocaust association, it actually has a positive ring to it. At the time Israel gained independence in May 1948, its Jewish population stood at about 600,000, meaning that as of the end of 2012 it had grown tenfold.
By most accounts the Israeli Jewish population also surpassed the American Jewish population in recent years. The comparison, though, is misleading, since American Jewry is undergoing high intermarriage and assimilation rates while in Israel intermarriage is negligible and, with the Israeli Jewish culture dominant, there is nothing to which to assimilate.
The year’s end has brought other good news as well.
The recent one-week skirmish with Hamas not only unveiled awesome Israeli defensive (Iron Dome) but also offensive capabilities, including revolutionary intelligence and drone innovations.
Hamas celebrated a “victory” in which its 1,500 rockets managed to kill six Israelis while Hamas’s side suffered about 180 fatalities, the considerable majority of them combatants.
The war, of course, was hardly enough to tame the wild Middle East, but rational actors observing it would realize that taking on Israel is a risky proposition.
Israelis have also heard in recent weeks that: Israeli students have improved substantially on standardized tests and now rank seventh in the world in math; 2012 saw the country’s lowest total for traffic deaths in 50 years, population growth and all; and illegal immigration from Africa through the Sinai – which only last spring seemed a menacing problem – has been almost stopped by the building of a border fence.
And this just in: Israel’s economy came in best in the West for 2012, its 3.3 percent growth rate outpacing all other Western countries.
With such achievements, the incumbent government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to win big in Israel’s elections three weeks from now, and the center-left opposition is reduced to actually proclaiming that its patron saint, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, is the real deliverer of Israel.
The picture at the start of 2013, then, appears to vindicate the claim of Zionism, a movement originating in 19th-century Europe, that the Jewish people in the modern era needed their own state to thrive. It is, though, already a truism that another major claim of Zionism – that creating such a state would be the solution to anti-Semitism – has not been borne out.
The inaccuracy of that contention was again illustrated on New Year’s Day 2013 when Dr. Essam el-Erian, an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood official, predicted that “Israel will be destroyed within a decade.” As he elaborated:
The Zionist project in Palestine came to prevent the existence of democracy in the Arab countries, and to prevent the presence of Arab unity and development in the Arab region. It came to deplete the wealth of the Arabs by making them stockpile weapons in countries that do not fight at all but spend billions on buying aircraft.
It was, at least, a novel account of the crafty objectives that really drove Zionism. El-Arian, it should be noted, is a senior adviser to Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, whose rapidly progressing Islamist takeover of the country has been characterized by some, including in the Obama administration, as a flowering of democracy.
Meanwhile Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland quotes a French diplomat who told him that “Iran has responded to the toughening of sanctions by speeding up its work on a bomb, not slowing it down…. We now have only a relatively few months to act before Iran’s nuclear effort becomes irreversible.”
The diplomat told Hoagland that the West should make Tehran a final offer and, if rejected, the only remaining alternative would be “an American-led military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability at some point in 2013.”
Whether or not Obama has any such intention is a matter of speculation; his former adviser Dennis Ross insists he does, while John Bolton dismisses the possibility.
For Israel the issue is one of continuing to thrive or facing a sworn genocidal enemy with nuclear weapons. The overarching question for 2013 is whether Israel will have to resolve that issue by itself.