Sunday, April 28, 2013

How Jewish demographics are changing: The rising Anglo-Hebrews and vanishing Sephardi-Ashkenazis

About 45% of the world's Jews live in Israel.  Another 40% live in the USA. Of course who is a Jew and how you count them is a bit unclear, for example people with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers (and there are quite a few of them) clearly have a connection to Judaism even if they are not officially Jewish.  I know that in England official figures represent the number of Jews registered with a Synagogue but nobody in my family is remotely orthodox or registered with a Synagogue and yet here I am living in Israel.

One thing is clear: Since the Second World War, there has been a massive shift in Jewish demographics, and part of that shift has been a movement towards English speaking countries.  Millions have left Arab, Moslem and East European countries and moved to Israel and the USA, Canada or Australia. Mainly of course, to the Israel and the USA.  Of the top ten Jewish communities in the World, four are English speaking and the other is Israel.
Of the other significant communities: Argentina, Russia and France experience migration (mainly to the USA or Israel) and only Brazil and Germany experience growth but have only small populations.
Assuming current trends continue, by the end of the century nearly all the world's Jews will speak English or Hebrew and many, perhaps most, will speak both as Jews migrate between Israel and English speaking countries.  Jews frequently migrate to Israel and then from Israel, they or their children move to the USA or vice versa.

The other significant change is the rapid irrelevance of the Ashkenazi-Sephardi divide. It used to be that if a Jew came from Europe s/he was Ashkenazi and if they came from the Middle East they were Sephardi. That is to say your place of residence defined your Jewish sub-ethnicity. Nowadays most French Jews (half of Europe's Jews live in France) are "Sephardi" and originate from Algeria or Tunisia, while any Jew from the Middle East is an Israeli and could be anything.  That means the Ashkenazi Sephardi distinction now only relates to Synagogue affiliation and history, and that is meaningless for Secular Jews and of low significance among Modern Orthodox Jews   Only Haredi Jews still maintain the distinction and I suspect that even among them, distinctions are eroding in Israel, as some secular Jews from different origins become Haredi and as social gaps erode.
According to Meir Shitrit on the Ministry of Education's website, over 35% of Israeli marriages are between Sephardi  and Ashkenazi partners while a Hebrew University study found that the percentage of children with mixed parentage increases by half a percent each year as children get younger, with 15 year olds currently at about 25% born or intermarriage. Incidentally, this means that over time all Israelis will be descended from both Holocaust survivors and from Jews who were evicted/escaped the Arab world.  There are also sizeable groups such as "Bukharan"s (Uzbekistani and Kazakhstani Jews), Caucasians (eg from Armenia, Azerbaijan,Georgia etc.) and Bulgarians, Turks, Indians and Ethiopians who are neither Ashkenazi or Sephardi.  Needless to say members of all Jewish groups live in the USA, where differences erode even faster.
Among Haredi Jews change is much slower; Marriages are arranged and tend to remain within the different Hassidic "courts", but the same processes occur among them, its just the speed that is slower.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Academic boycotts of Jews and Israelis: Historical parallels

When one reviews Jewish history one occasionally finds disturbing parallels. Accusations that Zionists were dragging Britain and the USA to war against Iraq were common before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. I was astonished to find that Mosleyites (British Fascists) had used similar claims back in the Thirties.

The current push to discriminate against Israeli academics may seem new, but it has a history.  It seems that academia is one of the first places to be affected by antisemitism.

Jews were first admitted to the Oxford colleges in the 1880's. In complete contrast to Britain, Russian universities introduced quotas for Jews in the 1880's, Jews were anyway banned from living in most of Russia. After the First World War, the new state of Hungary introduced quotas at its universities. In the USA growing Jewish enrollment at Ivy League universities led to tight quotas allowing only a very small number to attend.

In those days, faced with Pogroms and the like, troubles at universities were a minor irritation and not a major issue for Jews.

The German student union banned Jews from joining in 1921.  A poll of students found that 75% supported the ban which applied to converts as well as practising Jews. Einstein left Germany in part because of the constant disturbances in his lectures, related to his Jewish origins.  In Poland they had something called Ghetto Benches in the Thirties in which Jews, whose presence at the universities was subject to quotas, were also required to sit in seperate areas of the lecture halls.

There was a logic to restrictions on Jewish students, in that Jews deprived non-Jews of University places and later of middle-class jobs.  This logic doesn't apply today because the numbers of Jews in Europe has greatly dropped, however it remains true of Israeli academics, many of whom seek employment abroad.  While Israeli students probably bring more benefit then costs to British academics (by paying for courses), Israeli academics compete for jobs and article publication and so they have a direct interest in a boycott of Israelis.

Am I an Israeli academic?  I have dual nationality and dual degrees. Do boycotts apply to Israeli Arabs or just to Jews?  Where do you draw the lines? At present it seems like these boycotts are more expressions of emotion then policies but they cause us to assume that we face discrimination.  Unoffical apartheid.

Back in the Nineties, I visited the World Trade Center in New York and climbed to the top.  At the top of the building was a large metal pole: a lightning rod. Obviously such a tall building was a magnet for lightning, just as it was (we now know) for terrorism.
In a way, Zionism functions as a lightning rod for Anti-Semites. Israel, as the most prominent Jewish locale naturally attracts the ire of those who dislike Jews.  That they follow the same lines as earlier antisemites is hardly a surprise: they are, afterall, directing their ire at Jews.

Is it because of discrimination against Palestinians in Israel?  Discrimination exists in Europe too. It may well be that the Palestinians are the Casus belli - the excuse.  If the issue is the West Bank, then the use of antisemitic practises may be popular but it is hardly likely to prove to Israelis the error of their ways.
When dealing with minorities, the difference between legimitate criticism and racism is very subtle; The likelihood that union memebers can exercise such judgement are close to nil and a boycott intended as an anti-racist measure will soon become antisemitic and cease to serve any function.  The claim to be acting from anti-racist motives becomes particularly absurd when you consider the deeply antisemitic opinions voiced by many Hamas leaders.
Sometimes it is more important to be wise then to be right, ultimately the boycotters are neither wise nor right.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

East is East and West is West in the history of Israel

Israeli roads generally run the length of the country, which is a neat North to South (or vice versa) or cross it West to East (or the reverse), which tends to be a lot more narrow. When you drive on the West-East roads signs appear telling you the direction you are driving in. At the top they say מזרח (East) in Hebrew, in the middle is a squiggle in Arabic (saying the same thing) and at the bottom it says in English "East".
If you're bilingual like me then the sign appears to say "East is East", rather like Kipling's Ballad of East and West:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, 
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; 

Few countries epitomize Kiplings poem as wonderfully as Israel. It seems as though the Westernized Jews will never be able to attain peace with the Arabs and the Palestinians.
Kiplings adds that
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, 
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.
The problem with that though is that equality is only attained in conflict.

The East and West division is strong in both Western and Arab culture. Islam and Christianity have a bitter mutual history of conlifct: especially in Iberia where the Moslems were evicted, in the Balkans where Greece and Turkey exchanged populations and in the "Holy Land" where a bitter conflict was fought in the Middle Ages. European and Arab History are told differently, that is Christendom and the Islamic "world" each have a distinct narrative. According to Karl Marx they also had different modes of production: Feudalism vs. Despotism.  
Modern nation states tell their histories using a territorial based methodology in which one takes say, the French State and its people, defines them as the French "nation" and shows its development over time. This approach makes sense for countries like England and France which have had a long existence 

The territorial approach is problematic in countries which are the creations of European imperialism, although as time goes on - say over the next few centuries - this may become more relevant. There are a variety of ethnicities in Africa which are spread across several states and it might make more sense to trace the history of an ethnic group like the Tuaregs or the Akans then to write the history of Burkina Faso. The Middle-East is not as bad as Africa but also problematic. Iraq is essentially an amalgamation of three Ottoman provinces created by the British and it is questionable whether there should be a history of Iraq or of the Kurds or whether you should combine the two.

When you write a History of Israel, the Jews have both a territorial history and a supra-territorial history as a persecuted people.  Even the Palestinians have crucial events in Lebanon and Jordan, like Karameh, Black September or Sabra and Shaltila, however Palestinian history is generally very recent while Jewish history goes back a long way and is very varied. Even if you just throw in the Pogroms and the Holocaust you are referring to the whole of Europe and the Russian Empire and require extensive background.

I am currently reading Benny Morris's History of the Zionist-Arab conflict. It is probably the best history of the conlict in existence but tends towards classic territorial-based history and that bothers me because it doesn't sufficently describe European Jewish persecution or the Jewish presence in the Arab world.  I think a true History of Israel needs to combine the territorial approach with a "people" based approach and look at how the people formed, where their language originates, their beliefs and economy as well as the territorial formation. In the case of Israel, possibly more than any other country, that means devoting a lot of space to things that happened outside the state's territory and to merging Ashkenazi and Sephardi history.  So in a true History of Israel, East and West must merge and intertwine.

Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common...