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Deep Securitization and Israel's “Demographic


Article in International Political Sociology · December 2014

DOI: 10.1111/ips.12070


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1 author:

Uriel Abulof
Tel Aviv University


All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate, Available from: Uriel Abulof
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Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

International Political Sociology 8 (4):396-415

Uriel Abulof,

** Post-Refereeing Version. Click here for the final version **

Securitization theory’s core contention—the social construction of security as a
“speech-act”—is perceptive and productive, yet insufficiently attentive to
societies engulfed in profound existential uncertainty about their own survival.
Such societies are immersed in what I call “deep securitization,” whereby
widespread public discourses explicitly frame threats as probable, protracted,
and endangering the very existence of the nation/state. Under deep
securitization, to politicize is to securitize, sectors intensely intertwine, political
legitimacy’s object is the polity/identity itself, and securitization steps are
typically nonbinary and nonlinear. Empirically, if some securitizations are
deeper than others, Israel’s is one of the deepest. In this paper, I examine this
exceptionally apt though little-examined case for securitization theory. Israeli
public discourse abounds with “existential threats,” depicting the Jewish people
and polity as invariably endangered. The article analyzes the securitization of
demography and its linkage to geography and democracy in the Israeli-Jewish
discourse and praxis.

Keywords: securitization theory, deep securitization, Israel, Zionism,

demography, democracy, geography, existential threats, political legitimacy,
discourse analysis, corpus linguistics
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Securitization theory (ST), engendered in the early 1990s by the Copenhagen School,

holds that security’s meaning is closely related to its social construction (Buzan et al. 1998;

Waever 1995; Waever et al. 1993). ST’s original formulation posits securitization as a “speech-

act”: a discourse that generates social reality. More specifically, securitization starts with a

“securitizing move,” that is, a “discourse that takes the form of presenting something as an

existential threat to a referent object.” This discourse may then be accepted by its audience as

legitimating “emergency measures,” entailing securitization (Buzan et al. 1998:25). Importantly,

ST also emphasizes the flipside of securitization, namely desecuritization: “the shifting of issues

out of emergency mode and into the normal bargaining processes of the political sphere” (Buzan

et al. 1998:4).

ST became a fountainhead for theorization and case studies, and, like any progressive

research field, generated robust polemics (Balzacq 2011; Guzzini and Jung 2004; Huysmans

1998a; Mcdonald 2008). This article joins in the effort to advance ST by introducing “deep

securitization,” whereby discourses of “existential threats” engulf a society. While in deep

securitization, as elsewhere, discourse and practice typically intertwine, here I conceptualize

securitization mainly within the performative understanding of language (Vuori 2008). My focus

is on the social actors’ discourses—deciphering their talk and text, while being attentive to their

social context (including political behavior). This paper does not purport to explain why

securitizers securitize—why do certain actors interpret and frame matters as (existential) threats

while other actors do not (Sjöstedt 2013). A multivariate approach, integrating agential reflexive

motivations and structural, often habitual, causes (such as cultural values and norms) can help

account for standard as well as deep securitizations (Vertzberger 1998).

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The theoretical section suggests that we may discern various securitizing moves along

scale (what is at stake?), scope (who securitizes and how much?) and sort (what are the threats?).

Deep securitization is defined and identified through its distinct scale and scope: threats are

explicitly framed as probable and protracted, endangering the very existence of the nation/state

and that discourse is incessantly and widely employed by the society. Locating these instances is

aided by mixed-method research, combining corpus linguistics and discourse analysis,

contextualized through polls and the study of socio-political behavior. The paper further suggests

four key feature of deep securitization: politicization often requires securitization, security

sectors intensely intertwine, political legitimacy’s object is the polity/identity itself, and the

securitization steps are typically nonbinary and nonlinear.

If some securitizations are deeper than others, Israel’s is one of the deepest. The

empirical section examines Israel from the perspectives of its Jewish population—who

overwhelmingly subscribe to Zionism, that is, to the Jewish people’s right to found and sustain

an independent Jewish state—and investigates what and how they securitize. ST, which has been

richly applied to Europe and North America (cf. Wilkinson 2007), may benefit from such an

empirical extension. Israel provides an exceptionally apt, though little-examined, case study

(Lupovici 2014, forthcoming) since its public discourse abounds with “existential threats,”

depicting the Jewish people and polity as invariably endangered (Abulof 2009). This paper

examines the Zionist “deep securitization triangle” of geography, democracy and demography,

focusing on the latter.

I argue that demographic dominance has been regarded as a paramount goal of Zionism,

and, in the past decade, its securitization has been intensified. The “demographic demon” is

conceptualized as a threat to the very existence of the Jewish state and, at the same time, to the
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ideal of a “Greater Israel” and to Israel’s capacity to remain democratic. Since demography

dominates Israel’s “deep securitization triangle,” attempts to desecuritize it, through the

securitization of either geography or democracy, have failed, with profound geopolitical and

democratic implications. The apocalyptic vision of loss of a Jewish majority was among the

factors driving the Gaza Disengagement Plan (2004/5) and illiberal legislation (2009-).

Methodologically, while I use corpus linguistics to ascertain diachronic trends in the salience and

resonance of Zionist discourse on (demographic) threats, I mainly employ (qualitative) discourse

analysis, drawing on media sources, including prominent Hebrew outlets.

Theoretical Discussion

Studying deep securitization requires ascertaining its distinct place in ST. The first

theoretical section reveals securitization’s elusive discursive threshold of “existential threat,”

evincing the need to investigate deep securitization; the second section defines deep

securitization; and the final section points to deep securitization’s key features.

“A Fairly Demanding Criterion”: Securitization’s Elusive Existential Threshold

Deep securitization entails all-pervasive discourse on “existential threats.” In theory,

much of ST should be precisely about that. After all, “the exact definition and criteria of

securitization is constituted by the intersubjective establishment of an existential threat with a

saliency sufficient to have substantial political effects” (Buzan et al. 1998:25). ST’s yardstick for

the rhetorical securitizing move—which takes it beyond politicization—is “a fairly demanding

criterion: that the issue is presented as an existential threat” to either the state (sovereignty) or the

society (identity). While “uttering the word security” is itself not required, the threat must be

framed as a matter of “survival,” providing “priority of action ‘because if the problem is not
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handled now it will be too late, and we will not exist to remedy our failure’” (Buzan et al.


Moving on from theory to practice, however, it is not quite clear how strict this “fairly

demanding criterion” really is. For example, does former British PM Tony Blair’s 2004

statement that Britain had reached a “crunch point” in its dealing with immigrants, and that “we

will neither be Fortress Britain, nor will we be an open house” (Cowell 2004) fit the “existential

threat” criterion of the securitizing move? On the one hand, Blair’s statement does not refer to

immigration as threatening Britain’s existence or very survival, thus defying the discursive

criterion ST clearly stipulates. On the other hand, securitization studies abound that refer to such

discourses as securitizing moves, typically with respect to migration as an existential threat to

societal identity (e.g. Waever et al. 1993; Watson 2009). But does Blair’s assertion that certain

immigrants may “incite hatred against the very values this country stands for” amount to an

argument that Britain or British identity per se is in peril? We are left with creeping ambiguity as

to where exactly, if at all, should we fix the “existential” threshold.

Consequently, by bypassing a clear operationalization of securitizing speech, the

empirical study of securitization has effectively foregone its “fairly demanding criterion.” Few

securitization case-studies exhibit discourses that explicitly present an issue as an existential

threat to the referent object’s survival (be that object a state or society). Tellingly, whenever the

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phrase “existential threat” figures in ST literature it typically refers to the scholarly discourse

rather than to the discourses of the social actors. 1

Huysmans (2006) showcases this difficulty in his analysis of the EU’s security framing of

immigration. He alludes to “existential” politics / insecurity / threats more than 120 times, yet

none of these references is taken from the EU discourses examined. If migration has indeed been

“transfigured into events and developments that existentially endanger the independent identity

and functional autonomy of a political unit” (Huysmans 2006:51), should we not expect explicit

public discourse on how “immigration endangers our existence”? To my mind, this omission

emanates from the empirical fact that explicit discourses of this kind are (still) rather rare.

Strictly (existentially) speaking, the EU discourse has exhibited scant securitization in the past

decade. 2

Seemingly, to address this dissonance between ST’s theoretical postulation and empirical

investigation, we can opt to either reassert the “existential” threshold or else forgo it. However,

the former virtually means expunging the bulk of empirical securitization studies to-date as

theoretically inapposite, forsaking invaluable insights; the latter comes with a cost of losing ST’s

The same applies to Buzan et al. 1998, who conclude their mostly theoretical work in an
illustrative discourse analysis of the EU. Here too there is no explicit reference to “existential”
Boswell 2007. Indeed, Huysmans (2006:147) highlights his concept of ‘security rationality’ as
seeking to go beyond mere ‘discourses of danger,’ noting that by turning linguistic practice from
description to performative acts, ST “over-emphasize[s] the importance of linguistic practice.” It
is rather those bureaucratic technological “little security nothings” that we should pay closer
attention to (Huysmans 2011).

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distinguishing feature of conceptualizing “security as extremity” (Williams 2011a:216). Thus,

considering both the blurred boundaries and the importance of ST’s “demanding criterion,” a

middle ground—substituting a spectrum for a binary conceptualization of the securitizing

move—might be better. 3

Defining and Identifying Deep Securitization

The spectrum of securitization, and of securitizing moves in particular, spans three key

parameters: scale, scope and sort. Scale pertains to what the securitizers hold to be at stake; it

concerns both the referent object and the severity of the (explicit or implicit) threat. As for the

referent object, ST posits mid-level securitization as being about either societal identity or state

sovereignty. I propose an expansion to four main referent objects: identity, polity (often the state),

authority (regime/government) and policy. As for the threat severity, we should probe how

imminent and protracted is the danger (a potentially passing crisis or a long-term threat), what is

the probability assigned to the threat and, most importantly, what are the involved perils (damage

to the referent object or its utter extinction). Threat severity is the touchstone of deep

securitization, in which probable and protracted threats are explicitly framed as endangering the

very existence of the referent object, which is typically, not necessarily, identity or polity, not

merely authority or policy. However, deep securitization is discerned not only by scale but

through scope as well.

Abrahamsen 2005. Williams (2003:521) suggests “a continuum running from risk to threat.”
Bigo (2002) frames discourses and practices pertaining to sub-existential threats as constituting
“governmentality of unease.”

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Scope pertains to the securitizers—speakers and audience alike—charting the spatio-

temporal extent to which their discourse of dangers pervades the society. In some cases,

securitizers are few and far between, in both societal space and historical time. In other cases,

they seem to be virtually everywhere, and always. In the span between these poles, deep

securitization is closer to the latter.

Deep securitization thus scores high in both scope and scale: Securitizing moves are

prolonged and widespread; and threats are depicted as invariably endangering the very survival

of the collective. Note that my definition of deep securitization is stipulative and ostensive, not

real or nominal (Schiappa 1993). It delineates the phenomenon as sufficiently narrow to facilitate

an accurate identification of its distinct instances and broad enough to allow comparison and


Comparatively speaking, most securitizations are usually not very deep. For example, just

before the 2002 French presidential elections, the founder and former president of the Front

National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, proclaimed, “France is in danger, in danger of death … there is no

republic, the state is decomposing” (Mcneil 2002). Still, while making surprising electoral gains,

the overwhelming majority of the French public (82% in the second round) rejected his views.

Further, the “decomposing” French body politic seems to bear very specific cultural meaning for

Le Pen and his supporters, probably not amounting to the corporeal disappearance of the country.

Compare that to the securitizing moves by ousted Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, who

declared that “if carbon emissions continue at the rate they are climbing today, my country will

be underwater in seven years” (CBS 2012).

Acute crises engender discourses of danger. However, such securitizing moves, even

when entailing explicit references to “existential threats,” often fall short of deep securitization in
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both scale and scope. For example, economist and author Will Hutton admonished that “the

combination of private debt and the public finance deficit constitutes an existential threat to the

Irish State” (Keena 2010), and the Italian and Spanish premiers forewarned that if their countries

could not go to the markets to rollover their debt, “there would be an existential threat to the euro

in the short to medium term” (Steven and Paul 2012). Their statements attest to great concern in

light of a grave economic crisis. Still, this discourse, while occasionally crossing the “existential

threshold,” is rather limited in scale and scope. For now, most European publics have refrained

from framing this crisis as an existential threat, and the meaning of the latter is usually not

literal—for example, even in a worst case scenario, Hutton did not envision the disappearance of

the Republic of Ireland.

Moreover, in the examples above, as in most cases, securitizations rarely stretch over

more than a couple of months or a few years, seldom immersing the whole society for decades.

Thus, although ST reads security as a process, securitization studies often focus on crises that

span a relatively short period (e.g., Hansen 2011). Deep securitization thus provides an extreme

pole to “security as extremity.”

My definition of deep securitization draws on scale and scope, not sort. Deep

securitization must involve prolonged and widespread public discourse on probable and

protracted threats to the very existence of the nation/state. However, the sort of security sectors

evoked can vary substantially; it may be military and political, but also economic, societal, and

even environmental. Indeed, most deep securitizations entail multiple types of threats. Moreover,

as discussed below, deep securitization typically involves dynamic interplay between these

varied sectors.

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Before moving on from defining and identifying deep securitization to explicating it

dynamics, a methodological note is due: how are we to gauge securitization’s scale, scope and

sort? Here, the study of deep securitization offers no novel answers. As in most ST studies

working within the performative understanding of language, the task is optimally done by

drawing on discourse / content analyses, as well as on public opinion polls, utilizing non-

positivist methods to establish causal mechanisms (Guzzini 2011).

Still, I would like to briefly draw attention to two points. First, studying securitization

through discourse readily involves “abduction,” which posits that analyzing social conduct is

predicated on “the hermeneutic task of penetrating the frames of meaning which lay actors

themselves draw upon in constituting and reconstituting the social world” (Giddens 1993:163).

Lay language becomes key in deciphering “the motives and intentions, that people use in their

everyday lives, and which direct their behavior” (Blaikie 2010:89; Ong 2011). We must be as

attentive as possible to what the people themselves have in mind when uttering “danger!” and

not assume deep securitization unless that natural language actually meets the abovementioned


Second, ST has much to gain from mixed methods research, and especially from Modern

Diachronic Corpus-Assisted Discourse Studies. Corpus linguistics is the computer-aided study of

a large body of natural language, and it can greatly aid the task of ascertaining securitization’s

dynamic scope: establishing the salience and resonance of the discourses of danger. Qualitative

discourse analysis can then help establish securitization’s scale and sort (Abulof 2013).

Under Deep Securitization: Four Key Features

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If deep securitization is an exception to the rule, what does this exception involve and

what can it tell us about the rule? This section examines some of the main theoretical

implications of living “under deep securitization,” pointing to its features and resonance with

recent ST insights. Deep securitization amplifies, and helps refine, four key ST features and

insights that are often subdued in “standard securitizations.”

First, in a society undergoing deep securitization, to politicize is to securitize: since

“normal politics” is immersed in the discourse and praxis of “existential threats,” one can hardly

make issues part of public policy without framing them as posing “existential threats.” Deep

securitization is thus characterized by intense competition among and between securitizers (often

securitizing—read, delegitimizing—each other). Importantly, the pervasiveness of deep-

securitization discourses and practice does not mean that any securitizer is bound to succeed.

Securitizing moves are prone to a “boomerang effect”: they might be perceived as excessive or

as an expression of helplessness, spinning out of their speakers’ control and damaging their


By making securitization the rule rather than the exception, deep securitization shares

much with the “national security state,” in which discourses and practices of danger in the name

of “national security” are institutionalized by the state (the paradigmatic case being the post-

WWII US) (Hogan 1998). Campbell (1998:12, 166ff) notes that such dynamics lend themselves

to identifying the state with “national security” to such an extent that “should the state project of

security be successful in the terms in which it is articulated, the state would cease to exist… The

constant articulation of danger through foreign policy is thus not a threat to a state's identity or

existence; it is its condition of possibility.” Interestingly, this interpretation is arguably itself

partaking in deep securitization—positing “peace” as the ultimate existential threat to the state.
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Note moreover that whereas in civic nations (such as the US) the “national security/interest” is

typically defined in terms of what protects the state; in ethnonational states (e.g. Sri Lanka,

Bulgaria), the state interest is often defined in terms of what protects the (ethnic) nation.

Second, in societies undergoing deep securitization, various security sectors are

combined into a synergetic whole. Deep securitization thus takes a multisectoral approach,

whereby “actors will generally reintegrate sectors in their own processes of securitization. Threat

perceptions in one sector are shaped by a unit’s primary fears, even if these stem from other

sectors” (Buzan et al. 1998:196, 197-198). In the case of deep securitization, these multisectoral

dynamics also means that desecuritizing one sector often implies securitizing another. For

example, desecuritizing terrorism may entail securitizing the coping countermeasures (framing

them as a threat to democracy), potentially underlined by a “fear of fear” (Williams 2011b). In

turn, desecuritizing moves are often themselves securitized—discursively and practically framed

as existential threats.

Deep securitization diverges and converges with the concept of macrosecuritization. On

the one hand, macrosecuritization’s level of analysis goes beyond the nation/state unit, as it

“cover[s] securitisations that speak to referent objects higher than those at the middle level (for

example, ‘universal’ religions or political ideologies; one or more of the primary institutions of

international society) and which aim to incorporate and coordinate multiple lower level

securitisations.” 4 Conversely, deep securitization follows the “units-as-synthesizers approach,”

mostly investigating the viewpoint of the nation/state. 5

Buzan and Waever 2009:257. This above-mid-level emphasis clearly emanates from
macrosecuritization’s reference to regional security complex and security constellations.

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On the other hand, deep securitization’s multisectoral structure resonates with

macrosecuritization’s high “degree of comprehensiveness,” which “minimises the number of

separate concerns, issues and conflicts that achieve strong securitisation separately from the

macrosecuritisation” (Buzan and Waever 2009:258). If macrosecuritization is allowed to go

below the high-level referent object it can meet deep securitization half-way. In both cases,

discourses of acute threats to an all-important referent object permeate the society; and while

Buzan and Waever do not highlight the “existential” threshold, their empirical illustrations

(GWOT, Cold War) suggest that as well. Deep securitization’s emphasis on the nation/state level

may moreover be contextualized via larger, high-level, macrosecuritization. Indeed, the latter

also involves such “exclusive universalism” as nationalism, highlighting “the need to make the

Self secure” (Buzan and Waever 2009:263), and implying deep securitization’s next feature.

Third, deep securitization’s gravity accords a particularly somber and complex meaning

to political legitimacy. One of the key contributions of the Copenhagen School was to re-

conceptualize speech-acts as a sociolinguistic process rather than a linguistic event, connecting

“existential speech” with the “extraordinary act” through social legitimation. Still, this theme

was not fully developed (Stritzel 2007). It became much more pivotal and nuanced in the more

recent sociological approach to ST, which focuses on “the legitimacy of agents involved and

words used” (Balzacq 2011:3). While the Copenhagen School emphasizes speech and act, ST

Buzan et al. 1998:189. Still, in principle, deep securitization may pertain to both the individual
as well as with regions and even humanity as a whole. Indeed, these referent objects, and levels
of analysis, often intertwine. Here, however, my focus is on mid-level deep securitization.

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sociologists study the social context of both, as well as the social space between them, in

particular the socio-political legitimation of emergency measures (Mcdonald 2008; Vuori 2008).

With deep securitization, the object of legitimation goes deeper than the social

acceptance of securitizers, their securitizing moves and proposed measures; it is (also) about

deliberatively justifying the very existence of the collective. Along the main unit-level referent

objects, the social actors may distinguish threats to authority (e.g. democracy) and to policy (e.g.

multiculturalism) from threats to polity (e.g. the state) and identity (e.g. ethno-national

attachment). Since the legitimacy of the latter is often taken for granted, securitizers may

rhetorically associate with it their specific referent objects so at to imbue them with greater

legitimacy (Vaughn 2009). This discursive task is more daunting with deep securitization, since

its goal and object of legitimation are not merely authority and its policy, but polity and identity

as well. Consequently, debates about authority or policy often become securitized in terms of

polity or identity.

Furthermore, when the meaning of legitimation is narrowed to the social acceptance of

speech and act, its erosion should undermine securitization. Conversely, when legitimation is

part and parcel of the coping measures, indeed of justifying the threatened “existence” itself, the

erosion of legitimation boosts securitization, including the need to resort to extraordinary

measures. The incomplete (or absent) legitimation for a collective identity or collective polity

intensifies its members’ perception of insecurity (as existential uncertainty), and hence its

securitization discourse. The loss of legitimacy itself is securitized, framed as an existential

threat. Importantly, if the insecure polity is ethno-national, political legitimation lends itself to

justifying both the ethnic community (“the people,” understood genealogically) and the state,

legitimating each other: the state must exist to preserve the people, and the people must persist
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(often with an assured majority) to sustain the state. This mode of “societal security [which] is

often about nations and their survival” greatly challenges liberal democracy (Buzan et al.


Fourth, deep securitization’s steps are nonbinary and nonlinear. In its simplified version,

securitization seems to entail a chain reaction of three distinct, binary steps in linear sequence: a

securitizing train leaves the rhetorical platform, picks up a sufficient audience along the way to

its final, extraordinary, destination. According to this view, the speech (securitizing move) can

either pertain or not to existential threats; if it does, then the audience may or may not accept its

validity; if it does, emergency measures may or may not transpire; if they do, security is

produced, implying the breaking of inter-unit rules.

The actual process is obviously far more complicated. Securitization steps are not binary,

but span a spectrum. This applies, as discussed above, to the securitizing move, but equally so to

audience acceptance. For one, the audience is always heterogeneous (Leonard and Kaunert 2011;

Salter 2008). Moreover, the boundaries between speakers and audience (often implying elite and

general public, respectively) are often blurred. For example, on the one hand, we typically resort

to public opinion polls to gauge audience acceptance, but the respondents may very well regard

their answers as shaping public opinion, rendering them speakers as well. Being a securitizer is

thus a matter of degree. The same goes for the “extremity” of the coping measures. Deep

securitization often requires “the routinization of practices (i.e., habitus),” since the perverseness

of “existential threats” discourse can contribute “to the taken-for-grantedness of security

practices” (Balzacq 2011:16). Thus, securitizing agents may try to avoid presenting measures as

“emergency” or as “breaking the rules.” In fact, the very prospect of audience acceptance is often

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thought to rely on prior persuasion of the public that the coping measures are far from


Securitization’s steps are also nonlinear—they are essentials rather than stages—

involving a host of inner interactions. For example, securitizing moves may “skip” audience

acceptance to arrive at the measures directly; alternatively, leaders may be driven by their

assumption of a preexisting audience acceptance to advance new securitizing moves. Moreover,

public acceptance may result from measures taken without prior securitization, inverting the

progression of speech-act into act-speech dynamics. For example, the 1956 decision by the US

and Britain to withdraw their offer of loans to help pay for the building of the Aswan dam

prompted Nasser’s turn to the USSR and the nationalization of the Suez Canal (Borzutzky and

Berger 2010). This, in turn, enabled the British government to effectively securitize the situation

in the media—framing Nasser as “a second Hitler”—leading to the 1956 Suez Crisis (Shaw


In light of its four features, and before moving on to the case study, it is worth

considering that deep securitization interprets security as existential certainty, complementing

the typical understanding of security as defense against threats. The former approach regards

security as socio-cognitive self-confidence in the viability of a collective polity and the validity

of a collective identity, the latter pertains to ST’s “societal security” and to the “ontological

security” approach (Steele 2007). Contra to IR usage (Rathbun 2007), this existential certainty

does not refer to the intentions and capabilities of the Other, but to the Self. Securitization is thus

endowed with the ontological task of mitigating the existential Angst, arising from death being

both certain and undetermined (Huysmans 1998b).

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Israel’s Deep Securitization

Turning from theory to practice, few case studies lend themselves to ST as well as Israel

(which here, unless otherwise stated, refers to its Jewish/Zionist society). This section examines

securitization in Israel (and Palestine before that) from the perspectives of its Jewish, and mostly

Zionist, population. 6 To wit, I do not examine securitization by Israel’s non-Jewish population or

by the Jewish diaspora. Although I occasionally address critics of Zionism, I focus on Zionists,

analyzing their securitization(s) before, and mainly after, the 1948 establishment of the State of

Israel. Despite subscribing to Jewish political independence, Zionists have often diverged, but

most factions have been immersed, multifariously, in deep securitization, with a strong emphasis

on demography. 7

The Jewish society is seemingly embroiled in what some call “siege mentality” and

others, “crusader anxiety.” In particular, the collective memory and trauma of the holocaust and

the ongoing clash with the Arab/Muslim world have arguably fostered collective angst (Bar-Tal

2013; Wohl et al. 2010). This Zionist “culture of threat” has provided a fertile ground for

securitizations of the deepest sort. Elite and public alike have framed military threats, such as

Arab invasion, terror, and more recently the Iranian nuclear project, as endangering the very

existence of Israel (e.g. Ram 2009). Zionist deep securitizing moves moreover encompass non-

Henceforth, for brevity, and without political prejudice, “Palestine” indicates the area west of
the Jordan River, including territories that Israel captured in 1967, the West Bank, and the Gaza
Strip. The latter was partially transferred to the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, with
Israel withdrawing from it in 2005.
Polls indicate that 80%-90% of Israeli Jews consider themselves “Zionist” (Arian and Keissar-
Sugarmen 2012:69).

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military threats—such as intra-Jewish strife, economic disparities, political corruption, or even

“brain drain”—all explicitly framed as “existential” (Abulof 2009).

Zionist deep securitization is the work of structure and agents alike, and has been neither

static nor monolithic: social actors have dynamically shifted their securitizing moves across

sectors, and—while this paper focuses on securitization rather than on its flipside—quite a few

Zionists have occasionally aimed at desecuritization. Still, in order to legitimate their call, even

such “agents of desecuritization” often resort to (deep) securitizing moves of other sectors, and

are concomitantly portrayed by others as posing existential threats to the state.

Surprisingly, very few ST studies have examined the case of Israel (Lupovici 2014,

forthcoming). This section seeks to help fill this empirical gap by looking at Israel’s deep

securitization, focusing on one of its key facets: the “demographic demon.” To be sure, the

demographic threat has occasionally yielded to other prominent securitizations, such as the threat

of terror. The Oslo peace process, which was partly driven by the demographic imperative,

collapsed once terrorism surged, during the second Intifada. 8 Still, within Israel’s securitization

triangle—demography, geography, and democracy—the “demographic demon” has remained


Geography, Demography, and Democracy: Israel’s Securitization Triangle

In 1925, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Revisionist Zionist leader, stated, “The goals of Zionism can

be precisely summarized in a single sentence: ‘The creation of a Jewish majority in the land of

Israel’” (The Jewish Chronicle, 19 June 1925). Three years later Jabotinsky (1972 [1928]:278)

Slater 2001. On the reflection of this sentiment in Zionist discourse see, for example, Moshe
Arens, “Terror and Demography,” Haaretz, 9 December 2003.

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

commented, “We’re running a race against the Arabs, which of us is going to breed faster in this

land. The Arab ‘horse’ is now leading by far.” The geo-demographic imperative, and the fear of

failing to meet this existential challenge—the “demographic demon”—have been shared by

virtually all Zionist factions, including the prominent Labor movement.

The demographic demon has become a cornerstone of Zionism’s deep securitization,

which can be likened to a triangle of demography, geography, and democracy. Demography

typically pertains to an ethnic, rather than a religious, Jewish majority; democracy, while

occasionally harboring liberalism, is more often procedurally interpreted; finally, the geography

of Greater Israel extends to the West Bank and the Golan Heights (and for a few, well beyond).

For the most part, demography served as the base of this securitization triangle and its most

important part; the geographic / democratic sides were at times regarded as legitimating values,

at others as competing values (themselves subject to securitization).

Typically, the intense securitization of demography eclipsed both geography and

democracy. The Peel Commission’s proposal on dividing Palestine (1937/8) is an early case in

point. Both opponents and proponents securitized demography to boost their arguments.

Jabotinsky objected to the proposal since it allocated only 17% of the land to a Jewish State, and

much more is needed to absorb the millions of European Jews, whose existence is increasingly

perilous; Labor leaders argued that by not incorporating land densely populated by Arabs, the

plan actually aids the existential imperative of creating a Jewish majority in the future state

(Galnoor 1995).

The demographic consideration often challenged the democratic. This tension came to a

head with the idea of “transfer”: a coercive expulsion or “encouraged” emigration of Arabs from

territories designated to the Jewish State (Morris 2004:39-64). While Zionist references to
Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

Transfer predate the British Mandate, these were few and far between; and the idea was often

discredited as impractical and immoral (Karsh 2005). A more substantial discourse emerged in

reaction to the Peel Commission’s suggestion of “an exchange of population,” which initially

incited endorsement by some leaders, not least Ben-Gurion, Zionism’s foremost leader, who

extolled its merits in clear existential terms. Still, partly due to British rethinking, this qualified

endorsement subsided, and the idea was ultimately watered down (Galnoor 1995:166-181; Kats


The Zionist acceptance of the 1947 UN partition plan (55% of Palestine to the Jewish

State), and the subsequent 1949 decision to halt the military advancement (leaving about 78% to

Israel), were likewise driven by demographics. David Ben-Gurion explained: “the IDF could

easily occupy the whole territory between the Jordan River and the sea, but what kind of state

shall we have? Assuming there are elections and Deir Yassin [a 1948 massacre of around one

hundred Arab villagers] is not our policy, we will have a Knesset [Israeli Parliament] with an

Arab majority. Between the Greater Israel and a Jewish State, we have chosen a Jewish State”

(Knesset discussion, 4 April 1949). Notably, during the 1948 War, Transfer resurfaced again,

less in discourse, more in practice (Morris 2004).

Israel’s clear Jewish majority within the relatively well-recognized 1949 borders was

eroded by the 1967 war and its territorial gains. One of the first Zionist leaders to fathom this

trend as an existential threat to the survival of Israel as both Jewish and democratic was Pinchas

Sapir (Labor), Minister of Finance (1963–74): “We always wanted a Jewish State, and we had

not arrived to this land to labor and spill our blood for a binational state… close your eyes for a

moment and get the picture: one Arab and one Jew” (Labor Secretariat, 9 November 1972; see

also Greenberg 2011).

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

Sapir’s securitizing move matched early moral admonition by intellectuals, like

Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1982:225), and subsequent practical warning by demographers, notably

Arnon Soffer (1988). Still, at the time, Zionist elite and public alike rarely read this writing on

the wall. Most Labor leaders dismissed the demographic perils. Some, like Defense Minister

Moshe Dayan, argued that it is not imminent: “if the question before me now was whether to

grant citizenship to a million Arab or relinquish the territories, I would prefer to give up the

territories, but that question is not up for today” (Labor Secretariat, 12 April 1973). Others, like

Minister Shimon Peres, held that “our path, and that of our forefathers, is that faith is always

stronger than statistics” (Labor Secretariat, 9 November 1972). The Israeli “audience”

overwhelmingly rejected both the demographic securitizing move and the coping measures

inferred—relinquishing control over the territories.

Containing the deep securitization of demography prevailed so long as the “demographic

demon” did not infiltrate Israel. However, since the mid-1980s, and especially following the First

Intifada (uprising) in 1987, a change gradually transpired: the Zionist left began emphasizing the

loss of a Jewish majority as an existential drive for territorial compromise. In 1987, Shimon

Peres, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, faithfully acknowledged that “demography is more

dangerous than geography” (Yedioth Ahronot, 25 October 1987). On the same year, in a

parliamentary discussion on “The Demographic Danger that Threatens the Jewish People,” left-

wing Members of Knesset (MKs), such as Amira Sartani (Mapam), warned against retaining the

occupied territories: “What is the answer to the demographic question?... This is an existential

question! Some are trying to establish facts on the ground [settlements]. If we follow this path

there will be neither a Jewish state, nor a democratic state!” (11th Knesset session 280, 13

January 1987).

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

PM Yitzhak Shamir replied to this and akin arguments: “People exaggerate what’s called

the demographic problem … This problem has been with us for thousands of years, since the

Israelites entered their land at the time of Joshua. Yet despite this problem we still exist”

(Haaretz, 22 November 1987). Indeed, desecuritizing moves of demography, feeding on the

Jewish and Zionist past (“we nonetheless made it here”), remained substantial. Still, the

mounting securitization of demography aided the Oslo peace process. This prospect of

relinquishing control over most of the Arab population in the territories and the great USSR

immigration wave of the early 1990s alleviated the demographic securitization during that

decade—but not for long.

Public discourse on the “demographic demon” culminated following the collapse of the

peace process and the outbreak of Second Intifada (2000). This securitizing surge was facilitated

by the Palestinian insistence on the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to Israel—potentially

undermining its Jewish majority. Coupled with rising terror, economic downturn, and seeming

delegitimization of the Jewish state, Israeli Jews increasingly saw their state teetering over the

abyss (Abulof 2014, forthcoming). In 2002, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon diagnosed the

Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “an existential, cancer-like threat … I don’t believe the Palestinians

face an existential threat, we are the ones facing it” (Haaretz, 30 August 2002).

Demography played a major, though obviously not the sole, role in this gush of

existential uncertainty and deep securitizations, often entailing routinized extraordinary measures.

The salience and severity of parliamentary, public, and media discourses regarding the

demographic crisis rose dramatically. What follows is a detailed analysis of the Zionist

securitization of demography in the 2000s, first regarding the “external” demographic threat in

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

the 1967 occupied territories, and then the “internal” demographic threat of Arab citizens living

within Israel proper.

To visualize this diachronic discourse, the chart below (Figure 1) employs corpus

linguistics to reflect, via word frequency, trends in the framing of both overall “existential

threat(s)/danger(s)” and “demographic threat(s)/danger(s)” over the last two decades in Haaretz

daily, Israel’s oldest and most influential newspaper. 9 The trends often converge, and we may

reasonably presume this correlation to be symbiotic. Interestingly, however, these trends also

diverge at important historical junctures; notably, when overall securitization abated (2003-2005),

demographic securitization became most acute. Overall securitizing moves peaked at the height

of the Second Intifada (2002), in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War (2006), and with the

swelling discourse on the Iranian nuclear threat. Demographic securitizing moves, however,

gradually mounted during the peace negotiations and the Second Intifada, reaching a zenith

during the Disengagement Plan (2004/5), and then subsided significantly (2006-2008)—only to

regain some momentum under the second and third Netanyahu governments (2009-). The

subsequent qualitative analysis illuminates these quantitative trends.

Haaretz was used for this measure, as it provides the most comprehensive and accurate
digitized historical archive among Hebrew newspapers. Findings from the Jerusalem Post,
Israel’s main English newspaper, correlate closely with Haaretz’s figures for both overall
“existential threat/danger” (r=0.66) and “demographic threat/danger” (r=0.7). The qualitative
discourse analysis includes other Hebrew newspapers, chiefly Yedioth Ahronoth (online Ynet),
and Maariv (online NRG). As discussed below, both the political left and right play an active role
in the Israeli deep securitization regarding the demographic threat.

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

Figure 1- Existential / Demographic Securitizing Moves in Haaretz Daily

Securitizing External Demographics in the 2000s

Three competing demographic securitizations prevailed in Israel in the 2000s. Each

distinctly interpreted the “demographic demon” and its implications. Each also tied together

demography, democracy and geography, presupposing a Jewish majority in Israel as imperative

for Israel’s Jewish and democratic, and thereby legitimate, nature—a condition endangered both

demographically (by the dwindling Jewish majority) and geographically (by West Bank

settlements). These three demographic securitizations are analyzed below with representative

discourse samples and special attention to the Gaza Disengagement Plan.

The first kind of securitization leverages the demographic threat to encourage “voluntary

transfer” of Arabs. The agents of this securitizing move come mostly from the ranks of the far

right, such as MK Aryeh Eldad (National Unity Party), who regarded such a transfer as

debunking those “who argue that the demographic demon is soon about to defeat us” (YNET, 11

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

November 2003). But even dovish leaders, like Major General (ret.) Shlomo Gazit, the former

envoy to the PLO negotiation talks, argued that desperate times call for desperate measures, for

“democracy must be subordinate to demography” (Haaretz, 28 June 2002).

At the other end of the spectrum stands the so-called radical left. It seemingly aims at

desecuritization, since “it is scary to hear Jews speaking of demography,” especially in the name

of the ethno-national (and by implication non-democratic) Jewish State, which should give way

to a binational one. However, in order to legitimate this move, its speakers often end up invoking

another deep securitization: “I share the anxiety of the Jewish public in Israel. It is justified … A

bi-national framework is the only one that allows disengagement between Jewish existence and

demography” (Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Interview in Haaretz, 27 June 2002).

Thus, while both securitizations regard demography as an existential threat to Israel, their

motivations and practical conclusions differ: the former prefers geography (Greater Israel) to

democracy; the latter favors democracy over the Jewish state. In between the two, making up the

overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews (70%-80% in recent polls), are those who clearly prefer a

Jewish majority over Greater Israel. For most Israeli Jews (about 60% in recent polls), this

means a “two states for two peoples” solution. 10 The demographic rationale is simple: territorial

compromise is existentially imperative, since “the biological clock is vigorously ticking towards

Yaar and Hermann 2013 (see especially findings for December 2011, January 2012 and
December 2012). For similar findings during the 1960s-1990s see Arian 1995:66, 213.

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

the not-so-distant hour in which there will be an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the

Mediterranean Sea,” a time that will mark “the end of Israel as a Jewish state.” 11

The 2005 Gaza Disengagement Plan illuminates the mounting, and increasingly intricate,

securitization of demography. PM Ariel Sharon sought to legitimate his surprising move by

securitizing demography: “one cannot have a state that is both Jewish and democratic, and also

rule over all parts of the land of Israel” (Likud party general assembly, 26 September 2005).

Demographic securitization threads the statements of most disengagement advocates. Yehonatan

Basi, head of the Disengagement Administration, for example, argued, “[I]f we would like to

maintain a state that is both Jewish and democratic, we have to narrow the geography in order to

strengthen the demography” (Haaretz, 5 July 2005). Journalist Ari Shavit made clear that “the

Disengagement Plan is a national rescue plan. If not implemented, the Jewish homeland will face

an existential demographic danger. Hence, the moral standing of the Disengagement Plan is that

of an existential war” (Haaretz, 8 July 2005).

The securitization of demography motivated and legitimated the disengagement initiative,

contributing significantly to its acceptance among the Jewish-Israeli public. Indeed, in the 2000s

the demographic securitization intensified to such an extent that even agents of demographic

descuritization could not avoid referring to it, paradoxically contributing to the omnipresence of

Amnon Dankner (editor), Maariv, 6 December 2003. According to an official Israeli statement,
Jews have already lost their majority in Palestine, with 5.9 million out of a total of 12 million
(Haaretz, 16 October 2012).

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

the “demographic demon” in the public discourse, and indicating its overwhelming audience

acceptance. 12

For opponents of the Disengagement Plan, the demographic securitization posed a sore

challenge. In response, they adopted two main desecuritizing moves. First, some tried to

factually deny and neutralize the demographic danger by depicting it as “voodoo demographics,”

arguing that official statistics are unreliable and that the actual number of Palestinians in Gaza

and the West Bank is far lower (Zimmerman et al. 2006). This argument found moderate

resonance among the political right, but it was not accepted by most experts or by the greater

Israeli audience (Della-Pergola 2007; Lustick 2013).

More substantial attempts to desecuritize demography entailed securitizing other sectors,

primarily geography and democracy. Advocates of Greater Israel insisted that the entire land of

Israel belongs to the Jewish people and that to yield parts of it was to betray the people and place

it all in existential danger (Inbari 2007). The slogan of the disengagement opponents, “Jews

don’t expel Jews,” revealed that it is geography—rather than demography or democracy—that

legitimate both Jewish identity and the Jewish polity. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of the

prominent leaders of the Religious-Zionist public, explained that “obviously the land of Israel is

above any referendum” (Haaretz, 9 November 2004). Thus, for some disengagement opponents,

the existential threat to sacred geography allows, even sanctifies, breaking the rules of the

democratic game, including violent clashes with the security forces implementing disengagement.

More elusive was the position of opponents of disengagement in the name of democracy.

While accustomed to framing liberal democracy as a potential threat to the Jewish state, they

See, for example, B. Michael, “Jewish or demographic,” Yedioth Ahronot, 20 May 2005.

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

now criticized disengagement as subversive to this same democracy. Their argument was

twofold: procedural and substantive. Procedurally, some submitted that the decision on the

Disengagement Plan had been adopted improperly, and that such a significant issue required a

referendum (Don-Yehiya 2005). Substantively, some disengagement opponents, such as Elyakim

Haetzni, explained that whatever the procedure, the plan constituted a severe violation of key

liberal-democratic values: “It’s first and foremost a blow to democracy. One cannot decide to

carry out a pogrom, and this is a pogrom” (Haaretz, 18 March 2004).

Finally, some opponents securitized the disagreement itself as facilitating a “war among

brothers.” Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, one of the moderate leaders of Religious Zionism, distilled this

idea: “I see black, I see red, I see a war among brothers … How many more trials can the

foundations of Israeli society withstand? Why, we don’t know when the whole thing might begin

to crumble … An internal rift destroyed us at the time of the First Temple and at the time of the

Second Temple. That’s the only thing for which there is no divine promise. And here the danger

is truly an existential one” (Haaretz, 26 January 2005). This securitizing move was fairly well

accepted by the Israeli audience (though firmly rejected by the government). An opinion poll

revealed that about half the Israeli Jewish public, mostly opponents of the plan, believed that

disengagement might cause a societal rift (NRG, 20 April 2005).

Efforts by disengagement opponents to desecuritize demography were to no avail and the

plan was carried out with broad public backing (Yaar and Hermann 2013, May 2005). It appears

that only this territorial retreat—along with the West Bank Separation Barrier and the relative

calming of the conflict—assuaged the securitization of external demographics. Indeed, in the

wake of the disengagement and with the decline of Palestinian violence, many Israeli Jews have

come to believe that sans annexation, Israel’s continuous control over the territories is actually
Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

compatible with democracy (Yaar and Hermann 2013, January 2012 and December 2012). This

prevalent view may help explain the 2013 electoral difficulties of Tzipi Livni, a centrist leader,

who became the champion of securitizing demography for territorial compromise: “whoever

hinders the two-state solution may bring about Israel’s nightmare: there will no longer be a

Jewish State” (Maariv, 29 October 2009).

Securitizing Internal Demographics in the 2000s

The subsiding securitization of external demographics aided the securitization of internal

ethno-demographics. Already before the disengagement, Netanyahu outlined the emergent

rationale: “True, we have a demographic problem. But it’s not about the Palestinian Arabs in the

territories, but about Israeli Arabs… even if they integrate among us marvelously, and reach

35%-40%, the Jewish State is gone, becoming instead a bi-national state… our raison d’état is a

Jewish and democratic state, and in order for democracy not to cancel out Jewishness, we must

retain a Jewish majority” (Haaretz, 17 December 2003). MK Effi Eitam preceded him in

identifying “Israeli-Arabs… [as] an elusive existential threat. And elusive threats are by nature

like cancer, a disease most people die of because their diagnosis was too late” (Haaretz, 22

March 2002).

Framing Israel’s Arab citizens as a demographic threat to the existence of the Jewish state

was nothing new; however, like the external Palestinian threat, it peaked in the 2000s following

the Second Intifada, particularly in the aftermath of the “October 2000 Events,” a wave of

violent protests by Israeli Arabs during which 13 citizens were killed, shot by Israeli police

officers. There is vast evidence of the audience acceptance of this internal demographic

securitization. The rate of Jewish Israelis who believe that “Israeli Arabs constitute a risk to the

state’s existence” rose from 26% in January 2000 to 50% in June 2002. Interviewees pointed to
Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

Arab-Israeli society as the main source of (internal) threat, both to the state’s security and to its

Jewish character (Sagiv-Shifter and Shamir 2002; NRG, 20 April 2005; Arian 2003).

Israeli-Jewish public discourse abounds with antagonistic framings of Israeli Arabs.

“They want to preserve the conflict,” argued Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun (2003:167), “and to ruin the

state from within, so that both a Palestinian state will be founded and Israel will cease to be a

Jewish state, God forbid.” In response to the Future Vision documents published by Israeli Arab

organizations, which called for the annulment of the Jewish character of Israel, dovish journalist

Avirama Golan argued that “Israel cannot accept this demand, since it means giving up our home”

(Haaretz, 6 December 2006). 13 Journalist Avraham Tal wrote that it is no accident that Israeli

Arab statements amount to “an internal challenging of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state …

This week, leaders of the Arab minority in Israel declared their own war on the Jewish nation-

state” (Haaretz, 7 December 2006).

The securitization of Israeli Arabs in the 2000s eroded public support for certain liberal-

democratic principles. In a series of polls, most Jews thought Arabs should be barred from the

position of Prime Minister and from participating in fateful decisions, such as defining state

borders. One-third even thought that “Arabs should not be allowed to be elected.” About a

quarter demanded denying Israeli Arabs their right to vote, to hold demonstrations, and to appear

on television (Arian 2003; Sagiv-Shifter and Shamir 2002).

This securitization also prompted extraordinary measures and attempts to routinize them.

These measures were epitomized by the effort to undermine the so-called legislative revolution

Golan previously emphasized that the Left should “take up the demographic glove and throw it
to the garbage can” (Haaretz, 17 February 2004).

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

of the 1990s, which sought to solidify human and civil rights in Israel. Two early manifestations

were easing the disqualification of Arab parties and candidates (15 May 2002) and freezing the

“gradual nationalization procedure” for Palestinians marrying Israeli citizens (12 May 2002;

amended as law in 31 July 2003).

The public discourse surrounding the legislation was underscored by existential rhetoric.

One side presented such laws as undermining the foundations of equality and democracy, and

even as racist (Haaretz, 11 and 13 May 2005). Haaretz editor Amos Shocken attacked the

legislation as “discriminating, undemocratic, turning Israel into an apartheid state” (Haaretz, 6

May 2005). On the other side, Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland, head of the National Security

Council, argued that “the Nationality Law is the way to overcome the demographic demon”

(Haaretz, 3 March 2005). And PM Sharon noted reassuringly that “there’s no need to hide

behind security considerations. We must have a Jewish state” (Haaretz, 4 April 2005). At the

same time, “a senior figure in the Ministry of Finance” argued, with respect to a new policy of

cutting child allowances, that it was meant to help deal with the internal demographic threat: that

“we are turning the graph around to protect the Jewish majority” (Haaretz, 24 January 2005).

This was only the tip of the iceberg. The 2000s also saw a series of policies to encourage

Jewish childbirth, Arab emigration, and Jewish immigration, all reverberating strongly in the

public discourse. For example, the National Council for Demography was reconvened in 2002

with the minister in charge Shlomo Benizri (Shas) clarifying its goal as once again to deal with

the “demographic threat” by highlighting “the beauty of large Jewish families.” “We are the

majority in this land,” he continued, “and we have every right to retain our character and the

character of the Jewish state, and even to preserve the Jewish people” (Haaretz, 1 November

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

Efforts to desecuritize the internal demographic threat emphasized that “when Israel uses

demographic reasoning against its own citizens, it ceases to be Jewish and democratic” (Haaretz,

18 May 2005). However, as in the case of the external demographic threat, the attempt to

desecuritize demography by securitizing democracy petered out. Desecuritizing demography by

securitizing the coping measures as gravely threatening Jewish morality was equally doomed

since the vast majority of Israel’s religious Jews have subscribed to the securitization of internal


The desecuritization of demography in favor of liberal-democracy was often discredited,

even by centralists, such as Yair Sheleg, as “liberal fanaticism, which might also bring about the

destruction of the national homeland, even if not in the immediate term” (Haaretz, 29 July 2004).

Concurrently, the Supreme Court was securitized by being portrayed as a stronghold of liberal

legislation. MK Yariv Levin (Likud party), one of the forces behind the more recent legislation

efforts, stated that the Israeli justice system is driven by a “left-wing agenda, and most of all

constitutes a threat to our ability to guarantee our existence” (Eretz Yisrael Shelanu, 10 October,


The increasing securitization of Israeli Arabs was successfully leveraged by MK Avigdor

Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel is our Home”) party, who was vehement that

“there’s a significant section of the Israeli population, which defines its identity on the basis of

the aspiration to bring about the destruction of the state of Israel” (YNET, 17 August 2006).

Lieberman’s call to condition citizenship on an explicit pledge of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish

state crucially contributed to the massive electoral success of his party, which climbed from 3

seats in 2003 to 11 in 2006 and to 15 in 2009 (in 2013 it united with the ruling Likud party).

Lieberman and other right-wing and centrist MKs were able to place on the agenda, and
Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

sometimes to amend, legislation designed to limit the freedoms of Israeli Arabs (Haaretz, 17

November 2011).

It should be noted that the securitization of demography also led to actual transformations

in political geography. Chief among these was the construction of the West Bank Separation

Barrier as a possible border between Israel and a future state of Palestine in such a way as to

include as many Jewish settlers as possible on the Israeli side (Jones 2009). Concurrently, more

and more voices, right-wing and centrist, called for handing over Arab-Israeli villages and

townships to the future Palestine in exchange for retaining West Bank Jewish settlements (Ariʾeli

2006). Finally, during the 2000s, the idea of Transfer resurfaced. To-date, no Zionist party has

explicitly endorsed the forceful explosion of Arabs, from either the West Bank or Israel, in order

to cope with the demographic danger. Still, public support for Transfer, especially if depicted as

“voluntary,” has increased, though remaining a minority position (Zureik 2003). Objections are

often driven by practical, not moral, considerations (e.g. Yaar and Hermann 2013, March 2002).


ST has become an indispensable implement in the toolbox of security scholars. At the

same time, its novelty still leaves much room for theoretical refinement and empirical extension.

This article has demonstrated a mismatch in the literature between the theoretical “demanding

criterion” of “existential threats” discourse and the empirical analysis of case studies that

typically fall short of such discourses. To help rectifying this mismatch, the paper theoretically

hones our conceptualization of securitization and empirically examines an apt case study.

Theoretically, I suggested that rather than insisting on an either-or identification of

securitization, ST’s blurred boundaries can be clarified along a spectrum of securitization’s scale
Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

(referent object and the severity of the threat), scope (the extent to which discourses of dangers

pervades the society) and sort (the security sectors evoked). I proposed that deep securitization is

discerned by its scale and scope—prolonged and widespread public discourse on probable and

protracted threats to the very existence of the nation/state—and further outlined deep

securitization’s key features.

Empirically, the case of Israel/Zionism provides an apt aperture to investigate deep

securitization. Focusing on Zionist securitization of demography, I showed it to be a long-

standing, albeit volatile, preoccupation of both leaders and the general public, frequently holding

the “demographic demon” as endangering the very existence of the Jewish State.

This case also exhibits deep securitization’s four key features. First, to bring the matter of

demography to bear on politics, speakers resorted to its securitization, importantly focusing on

the survival of the ethno-national project (Israel as a Jewish State, not the state per se). Second,

Zionist securitizations are thoroughly multisectoral: demography is securitized through various

sectors (physical-military, socio-cultural and political), and groups seeking to desecuritize it

typically try to legitimate their call by securitizing geography and democracy—all within the

“macrosecuritization” of the Jewish people/state. Third, the Zionist object of legitimation is the

state (not merely its government and conduct), and its erosion is itself securitized, framed as an

existential threat that calls for extraordinary measures. Fourth, the steps of Zionist securitization

of demography are often nonbinary and nonlinear: the securitizers and desecuritizers of

demography are not necessarily elites, and their attitudes vary substantially; the coping measures

are occasionally routinized; and policy-makers often seem to be initially driven by presumed

“audience acceptance” to adopt measures, which in turn boost their securitizing moves. Finally,

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”

this case study suggests that in the framework of deep securitization, we may indeed interpret

insecurity as “existential uncertainty.”

Abulof / Deep Securitization and Israel’s “Demographic Demon”



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December 17, 2013.

Knesset Proceedings Hebrew Archive, 1983-2009. <>

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Labor Party Hebrew Archive, 1929-2013. <> Accessed December

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