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Some liberals actually see Israeli successes in these fields as a reason to feel less positive about Israel because the successes highlight the nation’s strength when pitted against the relatively powerless Palestinians.
Additionally, for years polls have revealed that the main reasons Democrats and liberals support Israel is their understanding that the two nations share certain fundamental values — including democracy, respect for minorities, the rule of law, freedom of the press and gender equality.
Anything that challenges that perception of shared values, including segregating women or Palestinians on buses, denying women the right to pray at the Kotel and imposing loyalty oaths on Palestinians, erodes that basic building block of support for Israel.
But the greatest threat to Israeli democracy remains the occupation. This is a problem not just of public perception, but also of demographic reality. Sergio DellaPergola, who is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert on Israeli population studies, laid out the stark picture this past February in a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington.
If Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, and if current fertility rates among Jews and Arabs remain largely unchanged, Jews will constitute only 54% of the population by 2030. By May 2048, when Israel celebrates its 100th anniversary, 55% of the population of Israel plus the West Bank (but excluding Gaza) will be Arab, and 45% will be Jewish.
That, in a nutshell, is why maintaining Israel’s Jewish and democratic character depends so heavily on reaching a two-state solution. As long as Israel continues to build settlements, progressives are not going to take seriously its claim to favor a two-state solution — and the longer it continues to perpetuate this contradiction, the more its credibility will suffer with this important constituency.
AIPAC should be praised for realizing it has a problem. Now it should take the next step and realize that it also has to play a part in working toward a solution — a two-state solution.
Alan Elsner is the vice president of communications at J Street.