A brouhaha has been brewing (brouhaha-ing?) over remarks that Martin Kramer—a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy currently serving out a visitor-ship at Harvard, as well as the president-designate of the forthcoming Shalem College in Israel—made at the Herzliya Conference in late February (covered for Tablet Magazine by Judith Miller).
Kramer spent most of his brief remarks establishing that violent radicalism is more or less inevitable in populations with a disproportionately high number of young-adult males. In the case of Gaza and its extremely high number of just such people—the consequence of an extremely high birth rate—Kramer proposes that aid agencies end pro-natal subsidies (which essentially guarantee care to future newborns) in order to lower that birthrate, lower the pool of violent young men, and bring peace:
eventually, this will happen among the Palestinians too, but it will happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status. Those subsidies are one reason why, in the ten years from 1997 to 2007, Gaza’s population grew by an astonishing 40 percent. At that rate, Gaza’s population will double by 2030, to three million. Israel’s present sanctions on Gaza have a political aim—undermine the Hamas regime—but if they also break Gaza’s runaway population growth—and there is some evidence that they have—that might begin to crack the culture of martyrdom which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men. That is rising to the real challenge of radical indoctrination, and treating it at its root.
The uproar to this has been predictable—indeed, one criticism you could make of Kramer is that he should have predicted it, and have taken better care at least to clarify his remarks. (I also think Kramer may have brought the academic’s correct love of experimental, extreme, half-held opinions into the unwelcome realm of politics.) Notable opponents include M.J. Rosenberg, who questioned whether Kramer wasn’t advocating genocide, and Stephen Walt, who rejects the genocide accusation but nonetheless called Kramer’s views “so offensive to any decent person that you don’t need to worry much about getting the right label for them,” as well as “barbaric and racist.”
The Harvard center supporting Kramer’s visitor-ship dismissed calls for it to disassociate from him. Kramer has also posted a self-defense, noting that all he proposes is removing the encouragement to procreation, not actively discouraging it.
There is no individual sentence in Kramer’s remarks that is incorrect, and the internal logic is consistent: the high birth rate does lead to increased terrorist violence; aid groups are encouraging that high birth rate; and so on.
But Kramer’s critics are, at least on the big question, correct. If the only solution to Hamas is to limit the Gaza Palestinian population, then there is no solution to Hamas. (And Kramer’s argument that it’s not limiting the population, only bringing it down to what it would be without those subsidies, is logically facile—no matter the reason, the birth rate is what it currently is—and morally insensitive, at the very least.) If the problem is too many young men with not enough to do, then the morally responsible solution has to be giving them something to do, not decreasing the number of young men.