Jewish Journal

Willful Blindness in Israeli Demography

by Pini Herman

May 1, 2012 | 2:48 pm

Is Willful Blindness Catching?

Willful blindness has been with us as a legal concept since Victorian England. It is a legal concept that argues that when there is information we could have, and should have, but somehow manage not to have, we are nonetheless responsible. In the U.S. it is often termed as “recklessness” when used in legal cases. While it is being used to describe Rupert Murdoch’s behavior by a British parliamentary commission, the term is particularly apt for the type of phenomenon that I have observed regarding the phenomenon of Israelis emigration.

For decades, some academics and Israeli government statisticians published on the relatively low numbers of Israelis leaving Israel. I recently published an article on that low numbers of Israeli emigrants naturally translates into a numerically modest Israeli community in the United States. For years Israeli politicians and official government representatives have made public declarations of large numbers of Israeli emigrants without any basis, without any attempt to check truth or accuracy with their own statistical agencies.  Unfortunately, I fully expect the “willful blindness” may continue on the part of Israeli officialdom. 

A recent example was an Interview of Israel’s President Shimon Peres in the April 4 issue of Time magazine. The interviewer quoted the often-cited number in suggesting that 1 million Israelis live outside their native country: “It’s not as if Jews are flocking there [to Israel]. What do these demographics say about Israel’s future?” Peres, without disputing the reporter’s figure, responded: “Maybe we are swimming against the stream.”

It can be assumed that Rupert Murdoch engaged in “willful blindness” for personal enrichment and political power.  What is the motivation of generations of Israeli politicians and officialdom’s “willful blindness” to over-represent the scale of Israelis leaving Israel?  The ideological import of migration away from Israel may be somehow linked to its numerical scale as a recently published piece by Jewish Ideas Daily entitled The Move That Dare Not Speak Its Name seems to emphasize, again without citing any contemporary data sources on which they base their contemporary demographic descriptions.

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position (and author of the “most recent” 15 year old study of the LA Jewish population which was the third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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