While most Israelis worry about a prospective demographic imbalance between Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel, with demographers claiming that, under current trends, Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews in the country, Professor Arnon Sofer of Haifa University says that there is a more realistic demographic change afoot.
And while the notion of Arab births eventually causing Jews to become a minority in the Land of Israel is by no means accepted by all demographers, the imbalance Sofer speaks of – that between the diminishing of the secular Israeli population in the State of Israel and the growth of the religious one – is often spoken of as a proven fact, by religious and secular alike.
Sofer, from his secular point of view, actually sees this imbalance as more dangerous, because he predicts it will cause increasing numbers of secular Jews to seek their futures abroad – causing Israel to lose a sizeable and important segment of its population.
Sofer, chairman of the geo-strategy department at Haifa University and vice-chair of its Center for National Security Studies, told Arutz 7 Wednesday that research shows that within a decade, the social situation in Israel could become a powder keg, as the religious population – especially the hareidi population - continues to grow, increasing the already-existing tensions between groups.
The study, presented at a meeting of the Knesset Aliyah and Absorption Committee, says that a majority in Israel will be religious by 2030. “We are on the way to a religious state,” Sofer said. “The country will have a religious and/or Hareidi leadership and personality by 2030. Today, there are about 700,000 people in the religious Zionist community, and about 700,000 in the hareidi community.
“But within a few years, due to natural growth, both communities will have about 2.5 million members, out of a total population of 7 million. In 2007, 110,000 Jews were born – all but 18,000 to religious families. The only 'babies' secular families are having are puppies,” said Sofer, in a play on an image generally associated with secular Israeli families - “parents, one child, and a dog.”
By 2030, he predicts, 55% of Israelis will be members of the hareidi community, with another large segment belonging to the national religious community – with only a small minority of secular Jews, says Sofer. “I have 8 grandchildren from secular families, and I am not sure all of them will want to continue living here,” he told Arutz 7.
While Sofer claims it is impossible to change the demographic trend, a point that is open to argument as there are other factors involved in Israel's population, he says there is a way to alleviate its impact and enable smoother coexistence between different parts of the population.
Sofer suggests a regional representation system, as is the case in the United States House of Representatives, to replace Israel's current national population proportional representation system. Such a system, he said, would ensure that districts with a secular character are able to feel represented, instead of being “swallowed up” by the religious majority. He did not mention that up till today, that is what happens to the religious Zionist population as opposed to the secular.
“Shas, the Hareidim, Bnei Akiva [sic], and the rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu will be the majority, and that's fine with me,” he said, lumping all religious Zionists in a Bnei Akiva youth group mold which is hardly an accurate description. . He then came out with the bugaboo clincher:: “But as a secular Israel, my suggestion would be to get all the parties together and work on changing the representation system, in order to ensure a Zionist majority in the country.”
However, "Bnei Akiva", as he refers to the national religious are Zionist, and so are some of those who vote for hareidi parties.