Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: Debacle of Demographic Fatalism

Projections have crashed on the rocks of reality.
Published: Monday, March 30, 2009 1:26 PM


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
"In 2000, there will be only 500,000 Jews in Palestine." -- world-renowned demographer Shimon Dubnov, in 1898
and the Mediterranean Sea have crashed on 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 Theodor Herzl a projection aimed at defeating 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 Israeli 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 Jordan and the Mediterranean.

But in 2001, there were five million Jews - a 60% majority.

In 1967, Prime Minister Levi 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's growth rate. The change in Arab demographics was triggered by a remarkable decline in infant mortality, an impressive increase in life expectancy, and a substantial reduction in emigration - all enabled by access to the Jewish state's health and employment infrastructures.

Prof. Bacchi did not believe that a massive Jewish Aliyah (immigration) would take place in the aftermath of the 1948-49 War. One million Jews arrived following that war. During the early 1970s, he projected no substantial Aliyah from Eastern Europe and from the USSR, because Western Jews could, but would not migrate; while Eastern Jews wanted to, but could not.

Almost 300,000 Jews arrived.

During the 1980s, Bacchi's followers in Israeli academia dismissed the possibility of a wave of Aliyah from the USSR, even if the Communist 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 United Nations Population Division, the average Muslim fertility rate - throughout 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. In Israel, Arab
The upward trend in Jewish demography has critical national security implications.
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 by the implementation of a long overdue demographic policy. Such a policy would highlight Aliyah, returning expatriates, migration from the Greater Tel Aviv area to the periphery (by upgrading Galilee and Negev infrastructures), as well as the equalization of working and studying hours, etc.

The upward trend in 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.