Friday August 29, 2014
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29.08.2014
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Yoram Ettinger

Demographic optimism in the new year

On the eve of the Jewish New Year 5772, the Jewish fertility rate of 2.97 births per woman exceeds the fertility rates in most Arab countries.

In defiance of conventional wisdom, Israeli Jewish fertility has been robust -- primarily due to a surge in secular Jewish birth rate -- while in the Muslim world rapid modernization has led to a sharp decline, down to 1.7 births per woman in Iran, 2.8 in Jordan, 2.5 in Egypt, 2.5 in most Persian Gulf states (except for Saudi Arabia, with 4 births per woman), and 1.9 in North Africa.

Since the 1940s, Israel's demographers have maintained that Jews are doomed to become a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and that it is incumbent on the Jewish state to concede Jewish geography (Judea and Samaria) in order to secure Jewish demography.

In fact, Professor Roberto Bacchi, the founder of the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics and the mentor of contemporary Israeli statisticians and demographers, projected in 1948 that by 2001 there would be no more than 2.3 million Jews in Israel -- a 33% minority west of the Jordan River.

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However, all demographic prophecies of doom have crashed on the rocks of reality. West of the Jordan River (in the combined area of Judea and Samaria and pre-1967 Israel), Jews have gone from a minority of 8 percent in 1900 and 33% in 1947 to a solid majority of 66% in 2011, comprising almost six million people. The current demographic tailwind should further expand the Jewish majority.

From 80,400 births in 1995, the number of Jewish births surged by 56% to 125,500 in 2010, while the annual number of Israeli Arab births stabilized due to their successful integration into Israel's infrastructures of health, education, employment, finance, medicine, politics, sports and the arts. Israel's Jewish-Arab fertility gap was reduced from six births per woman in 1969 to 0.5 in 2011, trending toward a convergence at three births per woman.

In 2011, the number of Arabs in Judea and Samaria is inflated by almost 1 million people (1.6 million, not 2.55 million) through the inclusion of nearly 400,000 overseas residents who have been away for more than a year, and by a double-count of 350,000 ID card-carrying Jerusalem and West Bank Arabs who are counted as Israeli Arabs by Israel and as West Bank residents by the Palestinian Authority. A September 2006 study by the World Bank documents a 32% inflation in the number of Palestinian births.

West Bank Arab fertility is declining faster than it is among Israeli Arabs, resulting from an accelerated urbanization process (from a 70% rural society in 1967 to a 78% urban society in 2011), an expanded education and career mentality among women, reduced teen pregnancy, institutionalized family planning, and other factors.

In addition, Judea and Samaria Arabs have experienced an annual net-emigration since 1950 (16,500 in 2010, 17,000 in 2009 and 17,000 in 2008). At the same time, Jews have experienced annual net-immigration (aliyah) since 1882, boosted by periodical waves of aliyah, in defiance of Israel's demographic establishment. For example, during the 1980s, Israel's demographic profession underestimated the number of Soviet Jews by 50%, stating that no massive aliyah was expected, even if Moscow opened its gates. More than 1 million olim (immigrants) nevertheless arrived.

An 80% Jewish majority in the combined area of the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel is attainable by 2035 in light of the current demographic trend, bolstered by a unique aliyah potential of 50,000 olim annually. It requires Jerusalem to declare aliyah the top national priority, leveraging the relative strength of the Israeli economy, whose credit rating was recently upgraded by the Standard & Poor agency -- the intensified anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union, Western Europe and Argentina, and expanded Jewish education in the U.S.

Anyone claiming that Jews are doomed to become a minority west of the Jordan River and that, therefore, the Jewish state must concede Jewish geography in order to secure Jewish demography, is either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.

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