(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In a society that encourages its denizens to heed the biblical call to “be fruitful and multiply,” one American-Israeli expert is saying that its time for a new approach.
Dr. Alon Tal, founder of Adam Teva V’Din – Israel Union for Environmental Defense, said that the most pressing issue facing Israel today is overpopulation.
“It’s pushing us over the edge,” said Tal, a North Carolina native who is a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University.
Tal has observed the effects of overpopulation since his time working in the legal department for the Environmental Protection Ministry’s predecessor (which was under the Interior Ministry) in the years 1982-1985, and since earning a PhD from Harvard in Environmental studies.
“There was a time when [having large families] was important for Israel,” Tal told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“Those days are past. We completed that mitzva,” he said. “We have 612 other mitzvot.”
He said that the current Israeli population growth rate is unsustainable in many ways. “We would need to be building 60,000
new apartments each year to keep up, but that’s not happening,” he said.
To deal with this particular issue, which Tal said has especially weighed on his mind for the past 15 years, he started the Israel Forum for Demography, Environment and Society, and will soon be releasing a book on overpopulation, titled The Land Is Full.
Tal slammed Israel’s “culture of dependency” that assumes society will foot the bill for large families, noting that it puts a strain on the country both financially as well as environmentally.
“I know of cases where families didn’t have a third or forth kid because they couldn’t afford it,” he said, yet noted that these same people “are being asked to subsidize families of 10, 12, 14 kids who aren’t responsible. That’s not fair.”
Tal called to “break the shameful cycle of poverty” that makes social welfare a common necessity for some families. His analysis showed that “most poor children are in large families.”
“Haredi families with two children are not under the poverty line,” he emphasizes. “Same for Beduin families.”
One of the central ways Tal recommends is to “[force] parents to be responsible.” One way to do that would be for the government to cancel the “perverse incentives” of subsidies and other benefits for each child born in a family.
Tal recommends policy that would provide subsidies and fertility treatments for a family’s first two children. After that, families would have to independently support any additional child. He used Singapore and Ireland as success stories, where the number of children in a family went from around six down to two.
He also said that adoption is a wonderful way for people to have children while keeping the population balanced and therefore “there’s no reason for spending so much money on fertility treatments. There should not be children in the system that don’t have a home,” he said.
A growing population will still be an issue for decades to come, he added, since the country will have 50 million people in the next few decades even if policies changed today. However, it is still possible to stabilize the population for future generations because there are “only 8 million people and you can still move about.”