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 17, 2010 03:18
2 minute read.
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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 saying that Jews had become a minority between the Jordan River 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 to advocating the thesis that the figures for the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been grossly exaggerated.

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“The momentum 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.”

At the heart of Ettinger’s claim is a 1997 tally conducted by the Palestinian Authority that 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 living abroad. Together this inflated the count by 615,000 people, Ettinger said.

“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 age of Palestinians and Arabs is much younger then for Jews, so the proportion of those having children is much greater than for 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 PA’s count in 1997, particularly its inclusion of Palestinians students abroad, but insisted these were in the tens not hundreds of thousands. “Fourteen thousand at the very best,” he said.

Moreover, the professor said this aberration was factored into his current calculations.

DellaPergola agrees that 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 Palestinian malice and my stupidity,” the professor said. In Ramallah there are politicians, absolutely, but there are also professionals.”

Ettinger rejects such assertions. 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,” Ettinger said. "Everything must be done with levelheadedness.”

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