A new study published by Arnon Sofer, who is considered to be one of the foremost Israeli researchers in the field of demographics, has stirred up controversy among Israeli intellectuals and academics, particularly those who support secularism. Sofer is the architect of the “Judaisation” plan and a proponent of the theory that Arabs are a demographic threat. He is now saying that Israel will be transformed into a religious state by the year 2030, because of the changes that Israeli society is currently undergoing. Sofer supports this conclusion with a previous study that he undertook, which deals with the demographic changes expected to take place in Israel between 2007 and 2020. In this study, the researcher claims that the high reproductive rate among religious Israelis will inevitably lead to the transformation of Israel from a modern secular society to a religious and traditional one and that this will have negative consequences.
In another of his findings, Sofer expects that the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews will exceed one million by 2030. This is because of the natural growth rate in the Haredi and other religious communities, which is between six and seven per cent per year.
The researcher arrived at results which conclude that religious Jews will form a majority in Israeli society and this may lead to one of these three possibilities:
- This historic transformation will create a new reality which will lead to the creation of new secular coalitions and alliances in order to counter the situation. This will require a “secular revolution” in all fields of society against extremists in the Haredi community.
- A state which includes a continually growing Haredi community. This will be accompanied by an increase in poverty. There will be a secular minority accepting of a religious lifestyle and a religious regime.
- The undermining of the concept of Israeli democracy. This will lead to the failure of the Israeli Knesset as a legislative institution. Religious Jews may resort to the Torah and religious law as a legislative authority instead of the Knesset and this will cause unprecedented chaos in society.
Sofer also points out several negative outcomes that will arise because of this transformation:
- The natural growth rate in Haredi families will result in Haredis making up a larger percentage of Israel’s youth and this will adversely affect government institutions and services, impeding their functioning or causing them to collapse.
- An increase in the economic gaps between the various sectors of society and a resulting need to bridge these gaps.
- Politically, this transformation will increase the power of the Haredi bloc in elections and affect public opinion in Israeli society.
- There are also fears that the demographic transformation will affect culture and education, introducing religious concepts derived from the Torah and allowing religious laws to hold sway in society.
- There is a possibility that mass media in its various forms will be negatively affected.
- A deterioration of the quality of life in Israeli society in light of possible emigration by secularists.
- It is believed that this transformation will adversely affect strategic policies and this will pose a danger to the existence of Israel.
- Poor administration, social chaos and the creation of social rifts which could harm the unity of Israeli society.
It is apparent that there is a very big fear of social transformation within Israeli society, especially of the imposition of religion on state institutions and political and social life. However, Arnon Sofer’s prediction that Israel will be transformed into a religious society or will have a religious majority gives rise to questions that he has ignored, such as the possible fallout on Palestinian society and on Palestinians inside Israel. These questions should be answered.
Firstly, there is a great deal of dispute among researchers regarding the essence of the Israeli state. There are those who claim that the way Israeli governments define themselves is complex and sometimes self-contradictory and there is a burning dispute within Israeli society about the exact definition of Israel’s identity. However there is an important historical fact that must be taken into account. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 spoke of the “right of self-determination of the Jewish people” and it is possible to ascertain the religious nature and the hidden ideological meaning of the Declaration itself by reading between the lines. It is possible also to conclude that the Zionist movement created a synthesis between religious ideology and secularism and even though the Israeli Declaration of Independence stated that “Israel is the national state of the Jews founded on a democratic basis”, this naturally contradicts the current reality especially in light of the state’s self-definition as a Jewish state or a state with a religious nature under religious authority.
This transformation will lead to a range of challenges to the interests and aspirations of the Palestinians in Israel. It may lead to the curbing of freedoms and to the persecution of community leaders, since Israel’s transformation into a religious state ruled by the Torah and religious law will remove all legal protection from its Palestinian citizens. It will pave the way for the passing of many racist laws against the Palestinians, as well threats to the very existence of the Palestinian minority and to their holy places, the most important of which is the Aqsa Mosque. In addition, a religious state will try to apply the ideology and concepts of the religious right, such as the vision of “Greater Israel”. This will negatively affect regional and international ties.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.