Despite two general elections, only months apart from each other, the makeup of Israel’s next government remains unknown. One thing, however, that did emerge from the last election is that the Arab population of Israel has amassed enough power to somehow, if not to steer the direction of the next government, it can at least “put the brakes” on steering it in another way.
The issue with the Israeli Arabs, who now amount to 20.9% of Israel’s population, is as old as the state itself. They are perceived by many Jews in Israel as a “fifth column” more faithful to the Arab cause than to the Israeli cause. This suspicion is not a baseless one at all. Actual terror and surely support and glorification of terrorists is a daily occurrence among Israeli Arabs and their leadership.
But even if this was not the case, just having such a large percentage of non-Jews in a state that is meant to be the home state of the Jewish people is a danger to that goal and creates what has come to be called “the demographic threat”.
There is a long-standing argument on how to deal with the “demographic threat.” People associated with the political left feel that the Arab citizen’s democratic rights trump the “Jewish” part of the state and would only fight the demographic threat by encouraging Aliya (Jewish immigration) with tremendous sums of money. People on the right, however, feel that a government can democratically deny certain citizenship rights to a population that is openly unfaithful to the state’s core values.
Another way to battle the Arab population growth is “internal Aliya,” — encouraging a higher birthrate among Jewish families.
Offering financial aid to large families is the most effective way this is done, but unlike the legal basis for Aliya, the “Law of Return,” which applies only to Jews (although it still needs to be fixed to define Jews as only those who are so according to Halacha), offering grants encouraging “internal Aliya” only to Jews is legally problematic under the current Israeli law which recognizes the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of their religion and ethnicity.
There are some legal tricks on how to direct these funds only to Jewish parents, but the debate whether Israeli-Arab parents should be awarded these benefits has not subsided, and it keeps coming up every now and then.
What’s the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s opinion on this matter?
Anyone who knows the Rebbe’s opinion on the integrity of Eretz Yisrael and about how to deal with the enemies we face in all directions would assume that the Rebbe’s opinion on giving Arab parents birth-encouraging benefits would be negative.
One person who thought he knew the Rebbe’s opinion on encouraging Arab childbirth was an Israeli Journalist named Noach Zevuloni who wrote religion-related pieces for the Davar.
In 1989, Zevuloni had a scoop to report: “The Deputy Minister of Labor and Welfare Rabbi Zeev Feldman has a problem. Do you obey Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah that sent him to the Knesset or obey the Rebbe of Lubavitch, to whom he owes this office?
This was months after the historical 1989 General election. In an unprecedented and never repeated move, the Rebbe called (as an hora’as sha’ah — a temporary instruction) to vote for Agudas Yisrael. Chabad Chassidim campaigned far and wide, and the end result was startling — Agudas Yisrael landed six seats in the Knesset, without roughly half of its previous base which broke for unfortunate, unjustified reasons related to sinas chinam.
One of the government positions they got by joining Yitzchak Shamir’s coalition government was that of the Deputy Minister of Labor and Welfare. This office had control of the Social Security program, which handled the birth-encouraging child benefits.
On what did the Rebbe and the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah disagree?
Zevuloni continues to report: “According to the instruction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, birth should be encouraged among Israeli Arabs.
“This directive seems to be in stark contradiction to everything the Rebbe preaches: he opposed the withdrawal from Sinai, supported entering into Beirut and even Damascus during the Lebanon war, denounced the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon; he advocated the application of Israeli law in the Occupied Territories and advocates for the complete Land of Israel.”
The disagreement was discovered in a book he chanced upon that was published earlier that year in Israel called B’Tzeil HaChochma, which contained transcripts of the Rebbe’s meetings with other Gedolei Yisrael. In it, he found a talk the Rebbe had with the Rebbe of Sadigura, Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman, who was a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the rabbinic body overseeing Agudas Yisrael’s policies. The conversation took place almost ten years earlier, on 4 Tammuz 5740 (1980).
In this conversation, the topic came up, and the Rebbe strongly opined that Arab parents should get the benefits as well. “Can it be that someone with such opinions supports encouraging the birth of Arabs in Israel?” he asked.
“The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ The Rebbe exhorts Arabs and Christians to observe the ‘Seven Noahide Laws’ they were commanded, and one of them is Lashevet Yetzarah [to keep the world inhabited], namely to ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’
“As we know, through various programs — benefits and aid to large families … we encourage the growth of the Jewish population; these regulations do not apply to the Arab community. And here comes the Rebbe of Lubavitch, demanding that the State of Israel help with grants and allowances to increase the birthrate among Israeli Arabs, and should work to prevent abortions among Arabs. All because a ‘Ben Noach’ is commanded to ‘settle the world,’ and the Jews must assist them in fulfilling that commandment.”
Another problem highlighted by the last elections is the heavy involvement of Chabad Chassidim and leaders in the political game in Israel.
Statements and deeds that demonstrate that Chabad is “right-wing” are problematic. Chabad is guided by the Rebbe, who is guided by nothing other than Halacha. Halacha is not a political system, and even if it may seem that a certain political view matches the Torah’s values more than another, it is still wrong to put Torah and Halacha into that limiting and divisive framework of “right” vs. “left.”
As the Rebbe said to the Rebbe of Sadigura, in reply to his concerns of emboldening the Arabs: “Since this is an endeavor based on the Shulchan Aruch, one can rely upon Hashem, and it is hoped that things will work out.”
40 years later, as recent demographic studies show, the Arab population growth has drastically slowed (from 9.5 children on average in 1960 to 3.11 per mother in 2016), and the Jewish population birthrate has grown, and as of 2016 has surpassed the Arab birthrate (3.16 in 2016 and growing since).
There are currently an estimated 1.8 billion Arabs and Muslims in the world, and if I understand the Rebbe’s approach correctly, we should encourage even more Arab births. Not because the Arabs as a whole are peace-seeking people, and neither is their religion one of compassion, but because that’s what the Torah requires us to do.
What about the dangers involved? — “Since this is an endeavor based on the Shulchan Aruch, one can rely upon Hashem” and not worry that following Halacha will “mess us up.” Another few million Arabs are another few million humans who Hashem wants in the world, making it a better place. ■