'Define e. J'lem Arabs as Palestinians'

Think tank makes proposals to uphold Jewish majority, better integrate Arabs, haredim into society.

By MATTHEW WAGNER
January 6, 2009 21:27
4 minute read.

 
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To keep Israel - not including Judea and Samaria - Jewish, democratic and economically viable, the state should redefine about a quarter of a million Arabs living in eastern Jerusalem as Palestinians, not Israelis. The state should also use more aggressive incentives to get haredim into the job market. In parallel, both haredim and Arabs should be encouraged to perform some type of national service, to increase social cohesion and integration. These are some of the conclusions reached in a position paper released Tuesday by the Metzilah Center, a pro-Zionist think-tank founded by Hebrew University Law Prof. Ruth Gavison. The paper, entitled "Demographic Trends in Israel," will be presented on Thursday during a conference of the same name that will take place at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem. With Arab-Israeli fertility rates significantly higher than Jewish rates, many Jewish Israelis are concerned that Israel will soon lose its majority even if it relinquishes hold of Judea and Samaria, with its large Palestinian population. Meanwhile, the haredi population, which lacks secular education, shuns military service and has a relatively low rate of employment, is the fasting-growing segment of Israel's population. As a result, the percentage of Jewish Israelis who work, serve in the army, and have a Zionist outlook is shrinking. The position paper attempts to offer solutions to reduce the percentage of Arabs and increase the percentage of productive Jews who identify with the state, without compromising democratic principles. Some of the suggestions, such as encouraging Arabs to do national service or introducing more secular subjects to haredi school systems, have been attempted, but have come up against stiff opposition. Another proposal offered in the position paper is to reduce Arab immigration to Israel by stopping the unification of families. Presently Arabs with Israeli citizenship are permitted to obtain Israeli citizenship for their non-Israeli spouses and children under the Family Unification Law. In addition, a concerted effort should be made to encourage about 500,000 Israelis living abroad to return. Dr. Uzi Ravhon and Gilad Malach, the two researchers who wrote the position paper, which was edited by Gavison, argued that it is morally and legally legitimate for the State of Israel to take measures, whether legislative or policy-oriented, to ensure a Jewish majority now and in the future. Ravhon and Malach agreed that some potential measures were unlawful. For instance they ruled out as discriminatory and undemocratic proposals to promote Jewish fertility by earmarking child allowances only for Jewish families and not for Muslim families. However, they said it was the right of every state to determine who received citizenship. Therefore, eastern Jerusalem's Arabs could be denied citizenship and the unification of families could be discontinued. "The political identity of these Arabs [in east Jerusalem] is unclear," wrote the researchers. "They participate in the elections for the Palestinian Authority. But while the State of Israel has granted them the right to participate in municipal elections they have not taken advantage of this right for a long time," they wrote. They added that "students learn according to the educational program drafted by the Palestinian Authority." The idea to redefine the Arabs of east Jerusalem as Palestinians is not novel, wrote the researchers. "In permanent-status negotiations a number of suggestions have been raised between Israel and the Palestinians, under which Arab Israelis would receive Palestinian citizenship," they wrote. The researchers pointed out that if the approximately 250,000 Arab residents of east Jerusalem were eliminated from the count of Arab Israelis, it would take another 15 years for the Arab population of Israel to reach its present level. On its Web site, Metzilah is defined as a body established to "address the growing tendency among Israelis and Jews worldwide to question the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism and its compatibility with universal values." Regarding haredim, Ravhon and Malach argued that government policy must be changed to encourage this growing segment of the Israeli population to join the workforce. In addition, the haredi school system's curriculum should be revamped to include subjects such as English, math and science. This would help haredim integrate in the job market, and, as a result, improve its socioeconomic position. The researchers offered two alternative scenarios for demographic trends in the next 20 years. According the "moderate" scenario, which is considered more realistic and is based on forecasts presented by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Jewish majority in Israel will fall from 76% in 2005 to 72% in 2030. The Arab minority will grow from 19.7% to 23.7%. In contrast, the researchers offer their own, more optimistic, scenario based on the assumption that the impact of haredi growth will be more significant and that Arab fertility rates will continue to drop. According to this forecast, in 2030 Jewish Israelis will make up 73.2% of the population. More significantly, however, Jewish children aged four and under will make 72.6% of the population compared to 71.8% in 2005. Quoting from the "Israel 2028 Study," a product of Israeli and American researchers that was presented to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in March, Ravhon and Gilad wrote that by 2028 haredim would make up 15% of Israel's population and 20% of the Jewish population. However, haredim aged 14 and under would make up 25% and 33% respectively. The researchers said they found a correlation between the cuts in child allowances since 2002 and the fall in fertility rates, especially among Muslims. However, haredim were also affected. In Beitar Illit, all-haredi town outside Jerusalem, fertility rates for the average woman fell from 8.9 in 2001 to 7.7 in 2006, and in Modi'in Illit another all-haredi city between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the rates fell from 9 to 8 during the same time frame. The average fertility for Jewish Israeli women was up from 2.59 in 2001 to 2.80 in 2007, as more haredi women became mothers. The fertility rate of woman who immigrated from the former Soviet Union has remained steady at 1.5.

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