The United States Census Bureau caused a stir last week when it released projections indicating that whites will no longer constitute a majority of the American population, possibly as soon as 2042.
Editorial pages and news sections throughout the country were filled with reports and commentary about the shifting demographics of American society and the stark transformation that lies ahead, as the very nature of what it means to be American will be undergoing vast changes.
Perhaps the most salient example of this lies in the expected growth of the Hispanic population, which currently makes up about 15 percent of the US.
By 2050, according to the Census Bureau, its numbers will nearly triple, from 46.7 million to 132.8 million, which will account for 30% of the population.
That means that within a generation, nearly one in every three Americans will be of Hispanic origin.
While all this might seem to be little more than an interesting curiosity to those of us living in the Jewish state, it would be a grave mistake to overlook its enormous impact and significance. Indeed, it is time for Israel and the American Jewish community to undertake a concerted effort to reach out to US Hispanics and actively cultivate their support.
HISPANIC-AMERICANS ARE making their presence felt in virtually all sectors of American life, and it is only a matter of time before their political clout matches their demographic status. So to ensure continued strong US backing for Israel, it is essential that more be done to educate Hispanic-Americans about the Jewish state and the challenges it faces.
From the Census Bureau report, it is clear that Hispanics are the nation's largest and fastest growing minority group. From the economy to the ballot box, Latinos are taking on an increasingly central role.
In the economic realm, a study by the University of Georgia found that by 2011, Hispanic buying power will reach almost $1.2 trillion, six times what it was in 1990. And, as Michael Barrera of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce pointed out to CNN in October, "The Hispanic consumer market here in the US is actually as big or bigger than the GDP of Mexico or Canada. We're the second largest economy in North America."
In this year's presidential election, Hispanics are expected to play a critical role in determining who will be America's next commander-in-chief. As the Pew Hispanic Center noted in a December report, "In 2008, Latinos will comprise about 9% of the eligible electorate nationwide" and they "loom as a potential 'swing vote'" because of their sizable presence in key battleground states such as Florida.
What all this means for Israel and the American Jewish community is that we need to start recognizing the importance of the Hispanic-American community and quickly develop appropriate political and public outreach programs. Not next year or next month, nor even maÃ±ana. It has got to be done right now.
A greater effort must be made to educate Latinos about Israel and its cause.
As a senior official at a leading Jewish organization in New York recently told me, "Israel isn't really on their [Hispanics'] radar screen. They are not in favor and they are not against. Many simply aren't familiar with our issues, and we need to change that."
I COULDN'T agree more. While groups such as AIPAC are making more of a determined effort of late, and Israeli consulates in Miami, Houston and Los Angeles have been investing important resources in this direction, it is far from sufficient.
For example, I checked a number of several prominent official government Web sites, such as those of the embassy in Washington, and the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Not one of them had a separate section for information in Spanish.
Many Spanish-speakers have limited possibilities with which to familiarize themselves with Jews and Israel.
With a little foresight, this situation can easily be remedied by organizing regular trips to Israel for prominent Hispanic-Americans, translating and disseminating basic materials in Spanish and focusing more energy on reaching out to the burgeoning Spanish-language press.
Major government Web sites need to start incorporating Spanish-language information, and Israel should also consider appointing a roving ambassador to reach out to Latino-Americans.
For the reality is that if the US Census Bureau's figures are correct, then a vital factor in maintaining long-term US support for Israel will be the extent to which we are able to answer one simple, yet very important, question: How do you say hasbara in Spanish? If Israel and American Jewry continue to leave this question unanswered, don't be surprised if we wake up 20 or 30 years from now and discover that not only has America itself changed, but so too has its Mideast policy.
And that is one gamble that we can ill afford to take.