Ettinger challenges widely accepted demographic figures

Demographic dissident: “The gap between Jewish and Arab growth is closing and shifting in the advantage of the Jews."

December 16, 2010 19:28
3 minute read.
Baby sleeping in cot

baby in cot 311. (photo credit: Illustrative photo)

When Yoram Ettinger read the Jerusalem Post’s story last month quoting demographer Prof. Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University that Jews had become a minority between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea he immediately asked to present his counterargument.  Over the past decade the former diplomat turned amateur demographer has devoted a large part of his time advocating the claim that the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is grossly exaggerated.

“The tail wind is Jewish,” he explained over a PowerPoint presentation at a café in Tel Aviv on Thursday. “The gap between Jewish and Arab growth is closing and shifting in the advantage of the Jews. Other demographers’ mistake is in assuming that demographic trends will be more of the same.”

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At the heart of Ettinger’s claim is a 1997 tally of Palestinians conducted by the Palestinian Authority which he said made several errors: First, it counted the population of Arab East Jerusalem twice; Second, it included hundreds of thousands of Palestinian students permanently residing abroad inflating the count by 615,000 people. Over the past decade that number has mushroomed into a figure of 1.2 million allegedly non-existent Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

These conclusions as well as many others are supported by a team of amateur demographers led by Bennet Zimmerman, an ex-financial analyst in the US.  Beside the alleged misrepresentation of Palestinians, Ettinger and his associates said Jewish birth rates have been greatly underestimated.

To substantiate his claim Ettinger shows a graph attributed to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics from 2000 which predicts a high case scenario for the future of 2.6 children per Jewish family and a low case scenario of 2.1, whereas fertility rates for Jews in Israel at the moment stand at around 2.9 per family.

“Nowadays the northern Tel Aviv residents in neighborhoods like Bavli, Tzahala and so on are having three, four children,” he said. “Finally, after many years, the secular are starting to contribute what they didn’t in the past. Why do they have four children? It’s because of collective responsibility.”

Speaking over the phone from Italy, DellaPergola sounded tired hearing about Ettinger’s opinions.

“Only last month we were paired up to speak on a radio show,” he said. "I’m a professional who works for the Hebrew University. He writes about demographic trends every day with no formal education and with a strong political agenda. He confuses demographic trends telling everyone the tail wind has changed."
Regarding the fertility rates, the Hebrew University professor said Ettinger had forgotten to take into account one important fact.
“There are trends affected by age differences,” he said. “He says the Palestinian fertility rate is decreasing, and the Jewish one is rising. The average number of kids in Israel for Arabs is 3.7 and for Jews it is 2.9. This is may be a much less drastic difference then in the past but still, he completely ignores one aspect of those numbers: The average rate of Palestinians and Arabs is much younger then Israel, so the proportion of those having children is much larger than the Jews. Even if fertility rates were even there would be more births in the Arab population, and this demographic argument is alien to Ettinger. For the same reasons there are also fewer deaths among the Arab populace because it isn’t as old. The death rate for Arabs is half that for Jews. Thus, the Arab population is growing fast.”

DellaPergola said he was aware of flaws in the Palestinian Authority’s count in 1997, particularly its inclusion of Palestinians students abroad, but insisted these were in the tens not hundreds of thousands. “14,000 at the very best,” he said. Moreover, the professor said this aberration was factored into his current calculations.

DellaPergola agrees the gap in population growth between Jews and Arabs in the land between the sea and the river is narrowing, but is convinced Ettinger’s claims are exaggerated and his motives are ideological.

“He believes in the Palestinian malice and my stupidity,” the Hebrew University professor said. "In Ramallah there are politicians, absolutely, but there are also professionals.”

Ettinger rejects such claims. He admits being a member of Likud, but said he is no longer active in politics. The ex-diplomat vows his work is scientific and impartial.

“There’s no room for pessimism and fatalism in demography,” he said. "Everything must be done with levelheadedness.”

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