Autoxenophobia: The ‘demographic threat’ goes worldwide

The real demographic balance that should worry liberal, humanist, open and progressive people is the number of xenophobes in our society, rather than the number of people with beards, skullcaps or hijabs.

By Dubi Kanengisser

When I lived in Toronto, I used to jokingly exclaim “man, I hate those immigrants.” Like all jokes, this had a grain of truth in it. It is easy to latch onto the obvious differences of “visible minorities” and extrapolate from one member to the entire group. We all have a little racist inside that we must overcome.

But there are Israelis living abroad whose xenophobia is not a joke, but rather a grim reality. Here is one example: Anat Levy, an Israeli who emigrated to Italy 27 years ago and decided to return to Israel, but not before she spit into the well she drank from, in a column she wrote for Ynet [Heb].

The key paragraph is the one the editor of Ynet found titillating enough to feature in the sub-headline: “The Levy Family left Islamizing Milan.” Or in Levy’s own words:

We all followed with interest Zvi Yehezkeli’s series on Islam in Europe. I saw Milan and felt the same feelings he conveyed: the fear, the hatred, the disinterestedness and naïveté of the Europeans. All these brought us back to what everyone also feels today in Italy. The Italian left allowed radical Islam free reign. You can see dozens on Muslims praying on sidewalks in various areas, the markets are controlled by Arabs and immigrants, it’s very dangerous to go out at night and ride particular lines. There were even rapes perpetrated during rides. The Italians tut-tut and continue with their typical European routine. The schools and maternity wards are full of immigrants. One of three births in Italy – are of foreigners.

Oh, the humanity! Dozens of Muslims praying – ON THE SIDEWALK! And the markets are controlled by immigrants! And those Jews with their long beards that control our banks! Oh, wait, sorry.

And it’s dangerous to go out at night and ride certain bus lines! Unlike any other big city in the worlds regardless of how many minorities live in it!

Levy concludes this paragraph with an impressive display of lack of self-awareness:

Europe is sitting on a ticking time-bomb, and the xenophobia grows ever stronger, without really discerning between races and religions.

Isn’t it terrible? Xenophobia grows, and those daft Europeans don’t even understand they should hate the Arabs, but not the Jews!

Take a normal country, like Israel. Here everybody understands that Jews are awesome and Arabs are crap. That’s how it should be. That must be why Levy and her family chose to come to Israel. Only here can people like her feel at home. We’re so lucky to have Aliyah to Israel which allows us to import the world’s racist Jews here. We can never have too many of those.

But is Italy really becoming more Muslim? Italy has one of the smallest percentages of Muslims among European countries. Approximately 2.5 percent of Italian residents are Muslim. And how about Milan? Starting in the 1970’s, Milan went through a suburbanization process that dwindled its population by one third by the turn of the century. Only in the past decade did immigration into the city finally match waves of emigration, with Milan having its first population increase in 40 years by some five percent. As a result, Milan is one of Italy’s most multi-cultural cities, with 20 percent of its population not of ethnic Italian origin. That is a lot!

Where do they come from? 34,000 of them, 14 percent  of foreigners, hail from the Philippines, 19,000 from China. Other countries in the big ten list include Peru, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Rumania, Ukraine and Albania. These groups alone account for over 50 percent of foreigners in Milan. The other two groups in the big ten – Egypt and Morocco – account for only 15 percent of all foreigners. Another 20 percent are various EU citizens. The remaining 15 percent are from the rest of the world.

But what about the birth rate? Foreigners (not just Muslims) account for some 8 percent of Italy’s population. Italy’s fertility rate is of the lowest in Europe (1.4 births per woman). With such a low fertility rate, must every foreign woman account for the one-in-three live birth statistic? It turns out the one-in-three figure is false. The Italian Institute of Statistics found that the actual proportion of children born to foreign couples (as opposed to children born to Italian mothers or to foreign mothers and Italian fathers) is 14 percent. For 8 percent of the population to be responsible for 14 percent of all births, each foreign woman should be giving birth to about 2.8 children during her lifetime. This is close to the average for secular women in Israel, and is lower than the number of children Levy herself – a foreigner married to a foreigner – has. Levy is just as much responsible for this statistic as any Muslim in Italy. At any rate, the portrayal of foreigners as multiplying at unimaginable rates is not borne by the facts.

So we’re talking about six percent of Milan’s population, with a completely reasonable fertility rate. Is this the “Islamization of Milan,” which led the Levy family to pack up its belongings and move to a country with an Arab minority of over 20 percent and is also experiencing a rapid process of ultra-Orthodoxization? I’m not fond of the “demographic threat” discourse, but if this is what frightens Mrs. Levy, Israel should be the last place to come to.

But the difference is that in Israel you don’t really see the Arabs. They will never dare pray on our sidewalks. They stay in their villages and towns, and when they venture into Jewish areas, waves of violence make sure they keep a low profile. The problem with Italy is not the mere existence of Muslims, but the fact that there they do not know Their Place. In Israel, we know to be racists against the right kind of people.

The demographic balance that should threaten us in Israel is not the number of people with beards and skullcaps, nor the number of women wearing a hijab. The demographic balance that should worry us is the number of xenophobic Anat Levys, regardless of their religion, ethnic group or gender, compared to the number of liberal, humanist, open and progressive people who wish to inhabit a normal state, with a normal society – one that accepts the other and celebrates difference; not instead of celebrating our own identity, but alongside it – out of confidence in the strength of this identity.

This piece was originally published in Hebrew on the blog Can’t Hear You. Dubi Kanengisser is a PhD candidate of Political Science at the University of Toronto and a blogger, contending in the Labour Party’s primaries.