Vision of the Four Tribes (2015)
In Israel, there is a word which has long since turned into a weapon: ‘Demography’. This word is generally used when someone wants to validate a particular claim. However, those with a good ear understand that this usage is generally nothing but an ostensibly polite way of describing one or other population group as a ‘threat’, or a ‘danger’. As unwanted, as illegitimate. Sometimes the finger is pointed at the Arabs, sometimes at the religious Israeli Jews, or at the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) - depending on the context. For this reason, over the years, I have developed a profound distaste for that concept.
But today, here I am standing before you, one year into my presidency, and asking to speak to you about demography. And that is because significant demographic changes speak to, and indeed even dictate, the very essence of reality. I have never regarded, nor will I ever regard any persons or groups comprising Israeli society as a danger, or, God forbid, as a threat. Ladies and gentlemen, the ‘new Israeli order’ is not an apocalyptic prophecy. It is the reality. A reality, that can already be seen in the composition of the first grade classes in the Israeli education system. In the 1990s Israeli society comprised a clear and firm majority, with minority groups alongside it. The demographic processes that are restructuring or redesigning the shape of Israeli society, have, in fact, created a ‘new Israeli order’. A reality in which there is no longer a clear majority, nor clear minority groups. A child from Beth El, a child from Rahat, a child from Herzliya and a child from Beitar Ilit – not only do they not meet each other, but they are educated toward a totally different outlook regarding the basic values and desired character of the State of Israel. Will this be a secular, liberal state, Jewish and democratic? Will it be a state based on Jewish religious law? Or a religious democratic state? Will it be a state of all it citizens, of all its national ethnic groups? Tribe, by tribe, by tribe, by tribe. Similarly, each tribe has its own media platforms, newspapers they read, the television channels they watch.
Each tribe also has its own towns, Tel Aviv is the town of one tribe, just as Umm el Fahm is the town of another, as is Efrat, and Bnei Brak. Each represents the town of a different tribe. In the State of Israel the basic systems that form people's consciousness are tribal and separate, and will most likely remain so. I do not want to oversimplify with rough generalizations. Obviously, this division is neither absolute nor allembracing. No population sector is in itself a single element, but rather comprises a varied range of members; and there are of course, also common areas between the sectors. However, it is also important we do not ignore, whether through blindness or denial, that it is not the marginal elements of each sector that create the huge gaps between them. If we do not reduce the current gaps in the rate of participation in the work force and in the salary levels of the Arab and Haredi populations - who are soon to become one half of the work force - Israel will not be able to continue to be a developed economy.
The severe and painful epidemic of poverty that is already having a major effect in Israel, will only expand and worsen. From a political viewpoint, Israeli politics to a great extent is built as an inter-tribal zero sum game. One tribe, the Arabs, whether or not by its own choice, is not really a partner in the game. The other three, it seems, are absorbed by a struggle for survival, a struggle over budgets and resources for education, housing, or infrastructure, each on behalf of their own sector. In the ‘new Israeli order’ in which each sector experiences itself as a minority, this dynamic will be infinitely more destructive. But, beyond all this, we must examine the social and moral implications of the ‘new Israeli order’. We must ask ourselves honestly:
1. What is common to all these population sectors?
2. Do we have a shared civil language, a shared ethos?
3. Do we share a common denominator of values with the power to link all these sectors together in the Jewish and democratic State of Israel?
Ladies and Gentlemen, neither suppressing nor fighting this situation will help. We are all here to stay - Haredim and secular Jews, Orthodox Jews and Arabs. Now, if we truly want to deal with the significance of the ‘new Israeli order’, then we must bravely face the issue, and ask ourselves some tough questions. Are we, the members of the Zionist population, able to accept the fact that two significant groups, a half of the future population of Israel, do not define themselves as Zionists? Whoever is not willing to ask these questions today is not more or less of a Zionist or a Nationalist, but one who is ignoring the most significant challenge put before the Zionist enterprise today. If we desire to live with the vision of a Jewish and democratic state as our life's dream and our heart's desire, then we need to look bravely at this reality. This should be done together, out of a deep commitment to find the answers to these questions, out of a readiness to draw together all the tribes of Israel, with a shared vision of Israeli hope.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ‘new Israeli order’ now requires us to abandon the accepted view of a majority and minorities, and move to a new concept of partnership between the various population sectors in our society. Clarification of the essence of that partnership is the task of all of Israeli society. Even if it is not my role, as President of the State of Israel, to dictate the answers to these important questions, it is my duty and obligation to ask them, and demand they be debated and answered. And I will continue to do so from every platform, everywhere, before every tribe amongst us, and before the whole people. -- I call on you all today to join me in facing this challenge. I am a partner to anyone ready and willing to play their part in this task. I am here at your service, at the service of all of Israeli society. Only in this way, together and in partnership, shall we be able to rekindle the Israeli hope.