TCS Daily

Virtual Israelis

By Jay Currie - January 14, 2004 12:00 AM

Writing in The Guardian Peter Beaumont outlines the demographic facts which could lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish State.

Crucially, however, the figures show that despite financial incentives for couples who have more children, the population rose last year by 116,000, or 1.7 per cent -- its lowest increase since 1990.

In the Nineties, annual immigration ranged from 70,000 to 200,000 as around a million Jews from the former Soviet Union -- many of them more loosely defined as Jewish than some religious authorities would prefer - flocked to Israel.

At the heart of all this is simple mathematics. Forecasts from the United States' Population Reference Bureau show Israel's population doubling in 45 years, that of the West Bank in 21 years and that of Gaza in 15 years. In other words, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and Israeli Arabs will outnumber the Jewish population by 2020.

It is likely worse than this as the Israeli couples having children include Israeli Arabs as well as Jewish couples.

Israel is a state explicitly founded upon a religious idea: a homeland for the Jews. It is, however, also a democratic nation and a nation in which individual rights matter. For Israel to survive this demographic challenge it must, somehow, find a way to ensure the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza have their own, separate, state or other arrangement sooner rather than later.

However if the two state solution is not workable, and there are certainly reasons to believe it may not be, it may be time for Israel to look at other options. One of those alternatives is what might be called virtual citizenship.

Historically, nations at risk of being overwhelmed, have sought to exclude specific groups from the rights of citizenship: the most notorious example being the South African process of relegating its black population to citizenship in fictional sovereign states. The Bantu states were about exclusion; creating virtual citizenship would be about expansion.

Citizenship is within the gift of sovereign nations and there is no reason why a person has to actually live in Israel in order to be a citizen of Israel.

Traditionally citizenship has been granted to people born within a country -- thought not always, there are Korean 5th generation immigrants in Japan who have never been given citizenship -- and to people who immigrate to that country. However, immigration is a rather murky concept. For example, when Hong Kong was returned to China, many Hong Kong residents spend a lot of money obtaining citizenship in other countries without ever physically leaving Hong Kong.

It is entirely within the power of the receiving nation to determine its own rules on immigration and what rights and obligations an immigrant will have. A nation might well extend most of the rights of citizenship, in particular the right to vote, to a class of virtual immigrants without requiring that they pay taxes or serve in the Armed forces.

Under Israel's basic law, Jews from anywhere in the world already have the right to emigrate to Israel and become citizens, more or less, upon arrival. It would be a relatively minor change to remove the requirement of physical return.

If the demographics suggest a situation in which the Arab population will overwhelm the Jewish one, Israel could take the option of offering what amounts to non-resident citizenship to Jews worldwide. A generation ago this would have been practically impossible: the paperwork and the sheer expense of processing millions of new citizenships would have been unmanageable. Now, a relatively simple, secure internet driven, virtual citizenship program could be created in a matter of weeks.

In many countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the EU there is no longer a significant issue surrounding dual citizenship. Israel could make the offer of virtual citizenship without causing Jews to have to renounce their current citizenship.

Whether a program of virtual Israeli citizenship was actually implemented may not make much difference. The fact the internet would allow such a program and the willingness of the Israelis to at least explore the option, would be a powerful incentive to moderate Palestinians to negotiate toward a two state solution. The plausible threat of millions of new, virtual, Israelis may be more than enough to push negotiations forward.

Jay Currie is a Vancouver writer whose writing and blog is at


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