'For 1st time, Israel in driver's seat'

Demographic researcher Zimmerman: Unified J'lem ensures Jewish majority.

zimmerman 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
zimmerman 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
"Any way you look at it," says Bennett Zimmerman, rattling off fertility rates and other statistics with the speed of a computer program gone haywire, "the metropolitan Jerusalem area is stable." Therefore, concludes the 41-year-old, Los-Angeles-based business strategist - whose American-Israel Demographic Research Group includes Michael L. Wise and Roberta Seid from the United States, and Yoram Ettinger and Brig.-Gen. (ret.) David Shahaf from this side of the ocean - it is Israel, "not the Quartet, the European Union or the Arab League," that should be calling the shots. Zimmerman became known in early 2005, when the AIDRG released a report on Palestinian population growth that contradicted the claims of renowned researchers in the field. This "breakthrough" didn't win him any popularity contests in academia. For one thing, Zimmerman - unlike the professors he was challenging - is not a demographer. For another, accepting his data would mean rethinking policies involving Israeli withdrawals from territory accrued during the Six Day War. Coupled with the fact that at least some members of his team are identified with the Right, Zimmerman was deemed suspect. So much so, in fact, that when he made a presentation to the Herzliya Conference in 2005, he was practically shouted down, and only allotted three minutes to speak at the same venue the following year. It is perhaps for this reason that during our hour-long interview in Jerusalem - where he accompanied his mother to last week's conference on child survivors of the Holocaust - he was hard put to formulate his ideas without flooding me with facts, figures and footnotes. It was as though he was already anticipating some sure-to-come attack in response to his words. It also may explain why he made a point of quipping about his "Labor-Zionist roots." It is certainly why he brought up his post-business school background - a job with the management consulting firm Bain & Company, run at the time by current Republican nominee Mitt Romney. "One of [Romney's] rules was that you had to measure the data," Zimmerman recounts, to explain his delving into Israeli and Palestinian demography. "Because if you can't measure it, you can't fix it. So, you first have to find out what's going on on the ground. " According to Zimmerman, "what's going on on the ground" is that "for the first time since 1967, Israel has a stable 2-1 Jewish majority" overall, and "a two-thirds Jewish majority in Jerusalem." Furthermore, he insists, while Arab fertility is "vulnerable" to "Israelization," Jewish birthrates are steadily high in the religious sectors and even surprisingly rising in the secular community. As for the capital - whose unification is now under question to the extent that its division may be raised at the upcoming Annapolis summit - Zimmerman gives the following numerical breakdown: "Everyone writes that there are 6,000 Jews leaving Jerusalem every year. But where are they going - the bulk end up in the Jerusalem metro area, the West Bank and the western suburbs. Ten years from now, stop looking at Tel Aviv as the place where all young adults are going to flock. All those kids from the suburbs are going to grow up and want to get apartments in Jerusalem. Then there's aliya. From the 5,000 immigrants entering the area every year, 3,000 settle in the city; 2,000 in the suburbs. So, you have a two-thirds Jewish majority; you have a fertility advantage; and more Jews entering every year than leaving - and those entering tend to have higher fertility rates than those moving out." It is this kind of information that will be included in "Losing Jerusalem and Other Demographic Errors - Olmert's Folly," the first part of a new "Let My People Know" series Zimmerman's group is in the process of posting on the Web. In addition, Zimmerman says he is going to be distributing free demographic software to university students "so that they can keep track and keep informed." "It's demography, after all," Zimmerman summarizes in what sounds like a swift swipe at his naysayers. "Not rocket science." As the Annapolis summit approaches, amid talk of dividing Jerusalem, discuss your latest study on Israel's capital. Taking the data from Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, we examined the population ratio of Jews to Arabs in the areas of the city that are inside the [security] fence. And relying on a Peace Now map, we examined all the Arab communities outside the fence - to add to our analyses based on data from the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics. What we found was that in both the areas inside and outside the fence, Jews have a two-thirds majority. The next thing we did is examine fertility rates. Israel's national average is 2.8 births per woman. It turns out that in the city of Jerusalem, Jewish and Arab women [including Christian Arabs] both have an average of four births per woman, while in the suburbs, Jewish births outnumber those of Arabs. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, absolute births have gone down by 10 percent, bringing the current estimate to 4.4 births per Palestinian woman, if not lower. The Palestinian Ministry of Health quotes a lower figure, but we don't use it. The point is that as Arab fertility rates are decreasing, those of the Jewish suburbs have been increasing. As Jews have been moving out of the city to the suburbs, they have been having even more kids than the neighboring Arab women. In other words, in the greater Jerusalem area, the Jews are now establishing a fertility advantage. How do you know that such a trend is not temporary? Arab fertility in general is more vulnerable now than Jewish fertility. The reason for this is that high fertility among the Palestinians is dependent on a very early start to childbirth - during their teens. Jewish fertility, on the other hand, does not depend on practices such as teenage pregnancy. A high-fertility sector has almost preselected itself around the Jerusalem area, where there are large haredi and national-religious populations, among whom childbirth usually begins in the early 20s. But it is also the sustained decision of these families to continue to have kids into their 30s and early 40s, which is giving the Jews the advantage. That's not the pattern we have seen in the whole of Israel. In fact, once they get into their 20s, that's where you begin to see parity between Jews and [Israeli] Arabs. The only advantage Arab fertility has over Jewish within Israel is because the Arabs get an earlier start. The question, then, is why do Arab-Israeli women get such an early start? The answer has to do with a lack of national service programs, college and vocational opportunities for them. Now, we see that in the Galilee, Israel has started a national service program for Muslim women. Are you saying that where there is modernization, Arab women begin having children later? We call it "Israelization." Except for Jerusalem, for the first time in the history of the state you have a convergence of fertility. With the increase of haredi women and men in the workforce - and a larger number of haredi men going to the army, how do you know that "Israelization" won't affect them the way it does the Arabs? First of all, because they don't have the same vulnerability in terms of teenage births. The Arabs, in order to keep their high rate, have to keep the same patterns. The Jews have less fluctuation. The biggest surprise is not in the [fertility rates of the] haredi sector, however; it's in Israel's secular Jewish population. Contrary to demographic predictions, which foresaw secular Israeli women becoming like European women in terms of birthrates, these women are surprising the demographers by continuing steadily to have kids. Many are having at least one child in their late 30s or even in their early 40s. So, now, overall, Jews are pushing towards 2.8 children per woman, while it was expected that they would fall from 2.6 to 2.4. Why does any of this matter? Even if you prove parity between Jewish and Arab populations - even if you prove a slight Jewish advantage - a majority of the Israeli public says it doesn't want to rule over so many Palestinians. In other words, even those who accept your figures are liable to say that, whatever the exact statistics, the situation becomes either a threat to democracy or to the Jewish nature of the state. Furthermore, if you listen to any IDF soldier who served in Gaza, you will hear him say that it is a cesspool that Israel is well rid of. Based on both of these factors, former prime minister Ariel Sharon was able to carry out disengagement, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is continuing to persuade the public that the same goes for Judea and Samaria. How can your research counteract this as a concept - not just serve as a weapon in the academic war between demographers? To answer that, I'm going to backtrack and tell you why we looked at these numbers in the first place. After going to business school, I went to work for Bain & Company which was [Republican Party presidential contender] Mitt Romney's management consulting firm. He used to be called the "Powerpoint president." One of his rules was that you had to measure the data. Because if you can't measure it, you can't fix it. So, you first have to find out what's going on on the ground. Well, in Israel, the facts on the ground are that after the disengagement from Gaza, Israel is now left with the West Bank, where there is a 67 percent Jewish majority, and 98.7% of the land. I hear very clearly that Israel is enlightened and doesn't want to have all those Palestinians in Israel, even if it could. But, ever since the Allon Plan - you see? I'm revealing my Labor-Zionist roots - all plans show Israel negotiating with itself. So, for example, Israel keeps the Jordan Valley and areas around Jerusalem, and finds some Arab third party nice enough to take the Arabs in the hinterland - 10 miles from the sea - and attaches them to Jordan, so that everybody can live happily ever after. The trouble is that there never have been any takers for this. Meanwhile, as the decades go by and the [Jewish and Arab] communities become completely interlocked, Israel tries to implement separation, and you start to see these maps that can only be called chutes and ladders. It's become a situation where the Oslo borders have created a disaster for Israel on the ground. They have made Israel - as benevolent as it wishes to be - an occupier forced to have checkpoints and zones. That's not Israel; that's Oslo - or what they call "defensible borders." This is a test drive. You're getting a chance to see what it looks like and how hard it is to implement. Jerusalem should be your next theater for examining what it means to have those borders. But how did this happen in the first place? In 1993, Israel was in a stalemate, without any good options. The right-wing solution was to keep all the land. Everyone who believed in this kind of sovereignty had to come up with abnormal political solutions, such as transfer, which is not only immoral, but it's stupid and counterproductive. The Left, on the other hand, decided they would take territorial risks in order to protect Israel's demography. Their surprise was this: Israel did not lose in the end due to a military threat from the [Palestinian] territories. In fact, Israel boasts its having beaten back the awful terror war the Palestinians waged. But Israel lost politically. The PLO managed to project a forecast, saying that 50% of the population west of the Jordan River was Arab, which enabled it to launch an "anti- South Africa" campaign [comparing Israel to the apartheid regime]. Once they mounted this campaign, Israelis said, "We're enlightened; we don't want Arabs." This attitude constantly provides them a greater constituency base with which to mount the political threat, which is of their choosing, not yours. By leaving the areas unspoken for politically, Israel is creating the ability of the other side to make that threat, which is why they keep insisting they're winning demographically. But it's not true. And by making all demographic scenarios appear as if Jews are losing, Israel becomes convinced that it's going to become overwhelmed. That's what made Israel dependent on the Quartet, on the European Union and now on the Arab League to bless an agreement. Everything you're talking about predates Olmert. But what hasn't happened until this point is that it's the first time you start to see that Arab fertility is not magically higher than Jewish fertility. For the first time since 1967, Israel has a stable 2-1 Jewish majority. And, as it tries to reach an 80% majority - which we're starting to see in Jerusalem - as Israel withdraws, because it wants to have fewer Arabs, the Arabs follow it back and converge upon a smaller Israel. Then, if you open the border at the Jordan, allowing free immigration into the West Bank, it's unclear how Israel will be able to extricate itself from that process. I believe the solution is happening on the ground. Aid to teenage mothers in a vocational setting, for example, could be a win-win situation, leading to all its citizens being on the same plane, which has the added benefit of Israelization. So much for the democracy side of the issue. But what about maintaining the Jewish nature of the state? Israel has the political system of an ethno-pure European republic, which breaks apart at the first appearance of minorities. The proportional representation system almost guarantees that you're going to have a minority spoiler bloc very quickly. If you look at the diverse situation on the ground in pre-'67 Israel, you'll see that you have almost a virtual lock of Jewish majorities in all the districts. This means that by implementing the districting of the electoral system - by having a chamber where all the seats are elected by the majority in that chamber - you cannot have a legislature which acts against the majority of Jews who live in a given district. In the North, you have two districts out of 17 which have slight Arab majorities. This answers the question of whether Israel should move North or South. If 50,000 Jews move to the North, you turn those districts' majorities Jewish. And when the highway, Derech Eretz, is built to Karmiel, you will have a mixing process which leads to bedroom communities. Establishing a university that opens educational opportunities for Arab youth, as well as the opportunity for them to move toward the coast, the Arab majority districts, as few as they are, become vulnerable. In the West Bank today there is an Arab majority. In western Samaria, the population is 35% Jewish. By the mixing of populations, the areas quickly have a Jewish majority. Along the coast, the communities are virtually 100% Jewish. This not only doesn't hurt the minority, it ensures consensus rule by the majority on important issues, while at the same time, it increases the capacity of the minority to participate fully in the electoral system. This is, after all, not the first time in history that a country has had to figure out how to manage diverse situations. Let's suppose Olmert hired you to draw up a strategy for him. What would it be? The first thing would be to make The Federalist Papers required reading for everyone in the government. Why? The Federalist Papers - the discussion that led to the establishment of the American Constitution - looks at how a government system is formed, and I think Israel has its main author, James Madison, on its side. Israel has a very powerful legislature and a fragmented Knesset. When Israel tried having direct elections for prime minister, it backfired. The public cast votes for prime minister and then proceeded to vote for an even more diverse Knesset than before. Voters never make mistakes. What the Israeli public was saying was that it wanted a a strong leader who makes majority decisions on national, foreign and defense policy and, at the same time, it wanted to protect specific interests, such as how the national budget is allocated. The Federalist Papers dealt with keeping the legislature from having too much power. The assumption was that government is powerful and dangerous. The worst thing you can do when you're confused about it is to make it more efficient. Making the Knesset more efficient, without figuring out how the Jewish majority will protect itself, or how more minority rights can be accommodated, will accomplish nothing. In fact, because of a bad political system, Israel has been restricted in its ability to deal with the West Bank. What I'm saying is that the ability to rectify this is in Israel's arsenal. Today Israel is not a start-up any more. It now needs to think about its sustainability. How does Jerusalem fit into this? There is no way to surgically divide Jerusalem without destroying it. What is Israel supposed to do in the absence of Palestinian consent? The question for Israel is how to prevent their ability to mount a political threat in the future. No agreement is possible without keeping a unified Jerusalem. If the goal of the Palestinians is to destroy Israel by being a political threat, how will they allow themselves to become "Israelized" - and what difference would American-style electoral districts make to them? I believe there are enough Arabs in the West Bank who will accept the offer of being part of Israel's attractive self. Those who don't accept Israel's laws and [eventual] constitution, won't get access to the wonder that is Israel. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected the wonders of Israel. Today, in Puerto Rico, where the US has a longtime "autonomy," if you will, one third supports independence; one third supports statehood; and one third supports a continuation of the status quo, because it provides the most benefits. Israel has reached the point where it can now negotiate with the individuals on the ground. And it has something very attractive to offer - something for which those individuals appear to be voting with their feet: Israel. If Israel decides to form regional governments under an Israel-led framework, then the PA can run in those elections. Or, what you might find is that people so quickly grab Israel that there is no [Palestinian] collective. Then the question for Israel will be how to organize the districts. For the first time, Israel has the ability to solve the hopes and dreams of everyone in its territory. A strong Jewish-majority political system. For the first time, Israel's in the driver's seat. You use Puerto Rico as an example. But a Puerto Rican who supports remaining under US auspices is not in danger of having his throat slit. Nor are Puerto Ricans part of a larger endeavor to destroy the West. One of the responsibilities of sovereignty is to provide complete security for everyone. If you have an authority in your midst which would challenge people's rights to express their free opinions, you don't have peace, you have a problem.