Let's leverage the good demographic news

Israel's Jewish population getting younger, Arab population getting older.

February 22, 2009 21:25
3 minute read.
Let's leverage the good demographic news

children crowd . (photo credit: )


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The bubble of demographic fatalism is bursting, according to the most recent data, published by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The data should be leveraged by the new government to formulate a demographic policy aimed at increasing the current 67 percent Jewish majority west of the Jordan River (without Gaza). The road map would uproot demographic fatalism and advance demographic optimism, thus energizing aliya, the economy, overseas investments, diplomacy, national security, posture of deterrence and minimizing Jewish-Arab tension, which is fed by demographic fear. According to the CBS, the country's Jewish population is getting younger and the Arab population getting older. The number of annual Jewish births increased by 45% between 1995 (80,400) and 2008 (117,000), as a result of aliya from the USSR, the shift by the Soviet olim from a typical Russian rate of one birth per woman to a typical Israeli rate of two-three births, the rising secular Jewish rate and the sustained high Orthodox and haredi rate. The number of annual Arab births has stabilized - since 1995 - at around 39,000, reflecting a most successful integration by Arabs into the country's infrastructures of education, health, human services, commerce, finance, culture, sports and politics. The fertility gap is down from six births per woman in 1969 to 0.7 in 2009, and the proportion of Jewish births has grown from 69% (of total births) in 1995 and 74% in 2007 to 75% in 2008. The downward trend typifies, also, the Arabs in Judea and Samaria due to large scale emigration, entrenched family planning, reduction of teen pregnancy, rapid urbanization, expanded education especially among women, record divorce rate and higher median marriage age. The Westernization of Arab fertility rate (3.5 births per woman in pre-1967 Israel and four in Judea and Samaria) is apparent throughout most of the Arab and Muslim world. For instance, the 2008 map of the UN Population Division documents an average fertility rate of two-four births, compared with over four births 30 years ago. Even Yemen, the flagship of robust Arab demography, is adopting family planning. This month it approved a new law setting the minimum age for marriage at 17 for boys and girls, prohibiting marriage without the consent of the woman and benefiting divorced women. THE JEWISH DEMOGRAPHIC tailwind behooves the new government to introduce a demographic road map, which would increase the Jewish majority, while respecting the rights of the Arab minority: 1. Placing aliya at the top of the order of national priorities, as expected from the Jewish state and as required by economic and security challenges. The global economic meltdown, and the rise in anti-Semitism should be leveraged to increase aliya from the former USSR, US, Europe, Latin America and South Africa. 2. The conversion of some 250,000 olim from the former USSR - in accordance with Jewish laws - should be expedited. 3. Jewish immigration to - instead of emigration from - Jerusalem would be facilitated by the availability of jobs and lower-cost housing, created through entrepreneurs attracted by a drastic enhancement of the city's infrastructure (airport, fast railroad, Loop, additional freeway, industrial and residential zones). 4. Enticing the return of expatriates and reducing the number of quality emigrants by improving education and research and development infrastructures. 5. Expanding high school and academic programs for prospective olim. 6. Significant development of infrastructure in the Galilee and in the Negev, triggering emigration from the Greater Tel Aviv area, which would yield economic, environmental and demographic benefits. 7. Synchronizing industrial and educational 9-5 schedule, which would facilitate raising children and obtaining employment. 8. The establishment of a global Jewish foundation, which would support Jewish fertility worldwide, in view of high assimilation, low fertility rates among non-Israeli Jews and Holocaust-driven demographic challenges. In 1949, David Ben-Gurion considered demography a top priority to salvage the Jewish state, thus transferring to his successors a foundation for a long-term robust Jewish majority. In 2009, the new government will enjoy an impressive critical mass of demography, military, economy and technology. Will it resurrect the Ben-Gurion legacy and buttress the future of the Jewish state by reinforcing Jewish majority? The writer is chairman of special projects at the Ariel Center for Policy Research.

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