By David IsaacIsrael recently celebrated the 65th anniversary of its independence. Shmuel Katz likely would have had much to say about the state of that independence. Shmuel in particular was alert to anything that detracted from Israel’s ability to act in its own best interest. He was also quick to praise anything that contributed to Israel’s political independence.
Shmuel would have denounced recent comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he stated the need for a Palestinian Arab State is the only way to “prevent the eventuality of a binational state.” Here, Netanyahu is accepting one of the premier arguments of Israel’s left – that if the Arabs living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza do not get their own state, Israel will have no choice but to incorporate them as citizens into a Jewish one, and the Jews would then be overrun demographically.
Shmuel rebutted the argument that the Arab birthrate was cause for concern in the 1971 pamphlet, “Will Appeasement Lead to Peace”, which he co-wrote with former Mapai Knesset Member Eliezer Livneh:
Already in the three years after 1967 the Jewish birthrate in Israel rose by 20 percent and it is still rising, thus narrowing the gap. Moreover, it is likely that Arab emigration — a striking feature of the nineteen years of Jordanian rule — will continue. At the same time there has been a sharp rise in Jewish immigration, the numbers are rising from year to year, and there are more candidates for immigration than Israel is at present capable of coping with — a condition, however, which is improving.
The net result of the operation of these factors since 1967 is that the numerical preponderance of the Jewish population has increased. In 1967 the ratio of Jews to non-Jews (Arabs, Druzes, and others) throughout the territory held by Israel was 63.2 per cent to 36.8 per cent. Today [early 1971] the ratio is 66 percent to 34 percent. There is no doubt that the Jewish people has the necessary resources, spiritual and material, to meet the challenge of the Arab natural increase.
Shmuel’s predictions over 40 years ago are borne out today. As former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, perhaps the leading voice against the demographic doomsayers, writes recently, “In 2013, in sharp contrast with projections issued by the demographic establishment, there is a 66 percent Jewish majority (6.3 million Jews) in the combined area of Judea, Samaria (1.66 million Arabs) and pre-1967 Israel (1.65 million Arabs), compared with a 40 percent Jewish minority in 1948 and a 9 percent Jewish minority in 1900. “
Population statistics are not the only thing Shmuel would have applauded. He would have praised the opening of the Tamar deep-sea gas field, which began pumping at the end of March. It is a momentous event in Israel’s history. Shmuel no doubt would have used the opportunity to warn Israel not to fritter away its energy resources as it has in the past — notably the Abu Rodeis fields in Sinai and the Alma oilfield in the Suez Gulf, both of which Israel conceded to Egypt.
Shmuel wrote in “Irresponsible Attitude on Oil” (The Jerusalem Post, Dec. 8, 1978):
What government in the world, even the government of a country which was not surrounded by a coalition of countries threatening her destruction, would agree to relinquish these vital assets, existent and potential?
Indeed, the crisis in Iran throws into bold relief the almost incredible amateurishness, the lighthearted abandon, with which Israeli governments have handled the problem of the country’s supply of oil, today the indispensable commodity for the progress and the security of the peoples of the world.
With the Tamar field, Israel has been given another chance. Oil industry observers predict a $76 billion lifetime production from the field. It’s not the great wealth that would have delighted Shmuel but the energy and financial independence that comes with it.
Israel’s dependence on foreign aid, he wrote, “is the heart of the problem, humiliating in its economic implications, debilitating in its social impact, and dangerous in its political consequences.”
Shmuel wrote in “Purse-String Tangles” (The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 1982):
Yigal Hurvitz, alone among Israel’s finance ministers to show the perception and the courage to insist in his day on a belt-tightening policy — now did not mince words.
“In the very month,” he declared, “when we say No to the Americans on the Reagan Plan — and I am for saying No to the Reagan Plan — we go and ask for $3.1 billion. This very month, this very government.”
Shmuel’s point, in short, was that an Israel that takes $3 billion from the U.S. has a more difficult time saying no to American pressure than one that does not.
So Shmuel would likely have issued a warning with Israel’s newfound energy independence; that the wealth should not be used as a spigot by a spendthrift government, but to purchase the kind of capital that mattered most to Shmuel – political capital.
Thus, the one achievement of Israel praised by one and all – that of its becoming an economic powerhouse – would have been greeted with ambivalence by Shmuel. Indeed, wealth as such did not interest Shmuel. He lived a Spartan lifestyle and would have been uncomfortable with Israel’s increasingly consumerist society. He often talked of the need for “belt-tightening” in a country that was basically at war, though many Israelis prefer to remain willfully blind to that fact.
It was not just the debilitating effect a spend-happy government, and the subsequent dependence on American largesse, had on Israel’s leaders, sapping their will to resist U.S. pressure and maneuver politically.
It was chiefly the effect of consumerism on the Israeli mindset, on the psychology of people who became accustomed to the ‘good life’ – a ‘Western’ lifestyle.
Israel’s situation, to Shmuel’s thinking, required a tougher breed, a touch of Sparta.