Demographic Optimism upon the Jewish New Year

Yoram Ettinger http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=569, September 28, 2011

On the eve of the 5772nd Jewish New Year, September 2011, the Jewish fertility rate – 2.97 births per woman and trending upward - exceeds the fertility rates in most Arab countries.

In defiance of conventional wisdom, Israeli Jewish demography has been robust - primarily due to a surge in secular Jewish birth rate - while regional Muslim fertility rate is experiencing a sharp decline due to modernity: 1.7 births per woman in Iran, 2.8 in Jordan (the "twin sister" of Judea and Samaria), 2.5 in Egypt, 2.5 in most Persian Gulf states (other than Saudi Arabia's 4 births per woman) and 1.9 births per woman in North Africa. 

Since the 1940s, Israel' demographic establishment has maintained that Jews are doomed to become a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and that it is incumbent upon 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 on the eve of the 1948 independence that in 2001 there would be no more than 2.3 million Jews in Israel – a 33% minority west of the Jordan River. 

However, all demographic prophecies of doom have been crashed upon the rocks of reality. From a minority of 8% and 33% - west of the Jordan River - in 1900 and 1947 respectively, the six million Jews in Israel have become a solid majority of 66% in 2011, in the combined area of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and pre-1967 Israel.  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 has 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 6 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 (1.6MN and not 2.55MN) throughthe inclusion of nearly 400,000 overseas residents who have been away for over a year, 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 Bankers by the Palestinian Authority, etc.  A World Bank September 2006 study documents a 32% “inflation” in the number of Palestinian births.

The decline in the West Bank Arab fertility is faster than the decline 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, etc. 

In addition, Judea and Samaria Arabs have experienced an annual net-emigration since 1950 (e.g. 16,500 in 2010, 17,000 in 2009 and 17,000 in 2008). At the same time, Jews have experienced annual net-immigration (Aliya) since 1882, boosted by periodical waves of Aliya, 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 Aliya was expected, even if Moscow opened its gates.  Over one million Olim (immigrants) 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 Aliya potential of 50,000 Olim annually. It requires Jerusalem to declare Aliya the top national priority, leveraging the relative strength of the Israeli economy – whose credit rating was just upgraded by Standard & Poor – the intensified anti-Semitism in the former USSR, West Europe and Argentina and the expanded Jewish education in the USA.

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.