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Internationally acclaimed geostrategist Prof. Arnon Soffer offers a dire forecast about regional population growth and the chances that Israel's Jewish majority statistic might be reversed.
In a lecture on Tuesday to the Mishkenot Sha'ananim Israel Newsmakers Forum, the controversial Soffer took credit for the Gaza disengagement, repeating several times that he had told former prime minister Ariel Sharon that if Israel did not withdraw from Gaza, it would be "the end of a Jewish and Zionist State."
However, Soffer's present bugbear is Tel Aviv, which he kept referring to as "the bloody Tel Aviv" - and the adjective did not describe a battle zone.
Soffer sees the city as a major impediment to natural population growth, almost to the extent of being an existentialist threat.
Speaking in English, Soffer said Tel Aviv residents were more interested in drinking coffee than in reproducing.
"Two-point-six million people live in Tel Aviv," he said. "They're all the time in restaurants; they're not in beds."
What bothers Soffer most about Tel Aviv is that it attracts people from all over the country, so the periphery comes to Tel Aviv instead of Tel Aviv reaching out to the periphery. While the birthrate may be low, the population is increasing because Tel Aviv has some kind of magnetic pull that other cities in Israel obviously lack.
In Soffer's perception, Tel Aviv is already overcrowded and will become more so. The pressure of this population density in a limited area will cause the whole system to collapse, he believes.
In addition, Soffer said, although the Israeli Arab birthrate was on the decline and had gone down from about eight children per family to three, this was not the case among the Beduin. The Beduin actually buy Palestinian women to marry, he said, and a large percentage of Beduin children are mixed Beduin and Palestinian. Unlike Israeli Jews or Arabs, the Beduin bring a lot of children to the world.
Soffer said he had once made a point of attending a certain conference because a Beduin man he wanted to meet would be there. The Beduin told him that he was one of 99 children - all from the same father, but from different mothers.
The Beduin actually make a business of having children, said Soffer, adding that even with the cuts in child allowances instituted by Binyamin Netanyahu when he was finance minister, a Beduin with 30 children would receive about NIS 24,000 per month.
When someone pointed out to him that haredi families also had a higher-than-average birth rate, Soffer's reply was, "Yes, but they're allowed to have only one wife, and the Beduin have many wives."
Soffer all but dismissed the haredi contribution to population growth, declaring that 65 percent of the Jews living in Jerusalem were anti-Zionist - a remark that implied they didn't count.
But he did count haredim in the exodus from Jerusalem, saying that whereas secular Jerusalemites usually opt for Tel Aviv, the haredim who leave the city go to Modi'in Illit (Kiryat Sefer) and Betar Illit.
Soffer implied that demographic statistics were not always reliable. For instance, he was not sure where 310,000 non-Jewish Russians should be categorized in the demographic divide between Jews and Arabs.
"Are they part of us or not?" he asked. Without them, the Jewish ratio of the population is 70%; with them, it goes up to 80%. But in 20 years, he predicted, both the Jewish and the non-Jewish Russian population would decline and comprise 75% of the total population.
The Arab population of Israel is currently 1.3 million, but it won't be long before it rises to 2 million, said Soffer, pointing out that there were no exact figures for the number of Palestinians who have infiltrated Israel. It is known that 350,000 returned to territory under Israeli control, which, he said, was close to the number of refugees who left in 1948. In recent years, he said, 100,000 Palestinians have become Israeli citizens.
Soffer warned that the situation would deteriorate if the Jewish Right insisted on implementing its Greater Israel policy, because even though there were large families in that sector of the Jewish population, the Palestinians were multiplying at a much faster rate.
Jewish and Palestinian population figures in about 12 years from now will be equal, he said, but two years later, the Jews will be a minority.
"We cannot afford a Greater Israel," he said.
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