Friday, March 27, 2009

The Debacle of Demographic Fatalism

YORAM ETTINGER, News First Class, March 23, 2009

Demographic scare campaigns have always been conducted against Zionist leaders. Demographobia – the illogical fear of Arab demography – has become a central element shaping Israel's national security policy, even though it is groundless. Thus, all projections claiming that Jews are doomed to become a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean have been crashed at the rocks of reality. From a minority of 8% and 33% in 1900 and 1947 respectively, Jews have become a solid majority of 67% (without Gaza), benefiting from a demographic tailwind, which could expand the Jewish majority. In March 1898, the world renowned Jewish historian and demographer, Shimon Dubnov, submitted to Theodore Herzl a projection, which was aimed to defeat the idea of reconstructing the Jewish Commonwealth in the Land of Israel. According to Dubnov, "The establishment of a substantial Jewish community in the Land of Israel is a messianic dream…. In 2000, there will be only 500,000 Jews in Palestine." But, in 2000 there were five million Jews west of the Jordan River!

During the 1940s, Professor Roberto Bacchi, the founder of the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, flooded David Ben Gurion with projections that Jews would become a minority by 1966. He contended that in 2001 there would be – under the most optimistic scenario – only 2.3 million Jews, constituting a 34% minority between the River and the Mediterranean. But, in 2001 there were five million Jews – a 60% majority!

In 1967, Prime Minister Levy Eshkol was advised by Israel's demographic establishment to roll back to the 1949 lines, lest there be an Arab majority by 1987. But, in 1987 Jews maintained a 60% majority, in spite of an unprecedented rise in the Arab population growth rate, triggered by a remarkable decline in infant mortality, an impressive increase in life expectancy and a substantial reduction in emigration, enabled by the access to the Jewish infrastructures of health and employment.

Prof. Bacchi did not believe that a massive Jewish Aliya (immigration) would take place in the aftermath of the 1948/9 War. One million Jews arrived following the war. During the early 1970s, he projected no substantial Aliya from Eastern Europe and from the USSR, because Western Jews could but would not migrate; while Eastern Jews wanted to - but could not - migrate. Almost 300,000 Jews arrived! During the 1980s, Bacchi's followers in Israel's academia dismissed the possibility for a wave of Aliya from the USSR, even if gates might be opened. One million Jews relocated from the Soviet Union to the Jewish Homeland!

In defiance of fatalistic projections and irrespective of the absence of demographic policy, in 2009 there is a robust 67% Jewish majority west of the Jordan River, excluding Gaza. According to the UN Population Division, the average Muslim fertility rate – in the world, including Judea, Samaria and Gaza - has taken a dive to 2-4 births per woman, as a result of modernization, urbanization and family planning. Arab emigration from Judea and Samaria has escalated, while Jewish fertility has grown steadily. The number of annual Jewish births has increased by 45% from 1995 (80,400) to 2008 (117,000), while the number of annual Arab births during the same period – in pre 1967 Israel – has stabilized at 39,000.

An 80% Jewish majority in Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel is attainable in light of the current demographic trend, bolstered with the implementation of a long overdue demographic policy. Such a policy would highlight Aliya, returning of expatriates, migration from the Greater Tel Aviv area to the periphery (by upgrading Galilee and Negev infrastructures), equalization of working and studying hours, etc.

The upward trending Jewish demography has critical national security implications. It defies demographic fatalism and its policy derivatives. Well-documented Demographic optimism should be accorded due consideration by Israel's leadership and by Israel's friends.

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