The bubble of demographic fatalism is bursting, according to the most recent data, published by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS). The data should be leveraged by the new Israeli government, in order to formulate a demographic policy, aimed at increasing the current 67% Jewish majority west of the Jordan River (without Gaza). The policy would uproot demographic fatalism and advance demographic optimism, thus energizing Aliya, Israel’s economy, overseas investments, diplomacy, national security, posture of deterrence and minimizing Jewish-Arab tension, which is fed by demographic fear.
According to the ICBS, Israel’s Jewish society is getting younger and the Arab society is 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 1 birth per woman to a typical Israeli rate of 2-3 births, the rising secular Jewish rate and the sustained high orthodox and ultra-orthodox rate. The number of annual Arab births has stabilized – since 1995 – around 39,000, reflecting a most successful integration by Israeli Arabs into Israel’s infrastructures of education, health, human services, commerce, finance, culture, sports and politics. The fertility gap is down from 6 births per woman in 1969 to 0.7 births 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 4 births in Judea and Samaria), is apparent throughout most of the Arab and Moslem world. For instance, the 2008 map of the UN Population Division documents an average fertility rate of 2-4 births, compared with over 4 births 30 years ago (http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/worldfertility2007/TFRmaps.htm).
Even Yemen, the flagship of robust Arab demography, is adopting family planning. In February 2009 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, in Israel, behooves the new government to introduce a demographic roadmap, which would increase the Jewish majority, while respecting the rights of the Arab minority:
1. Reverting Aliya to 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, in order to increase Aliya from the former USSR, USA, Europe, Latin America, South Africa, etc.
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, which would be created by entrepreneurs, attracted by a drastic enhancement of Jerusalem’s infrastructures (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, research and development infrastructures.
5. Expanding high school and academic programs for prospective Olim.
6. Significant development of infrastructures 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 9:00-5:00 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, Ben Gurion considered demography as a top priority, in order 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?