The Politics of Demography

March 20, 2014 7:18 am 6 comments

A crowd in Tel Aviv. Photo: Wiki Commons.

It is endlessly – and mindlessly – reiterated that demographic disaster looms for Israel if it does not relinquish its biblical homeland for a Palestinian state. Everyone from Yasser Arafat to Barack Obama has said so. The PLO leader gleefully predicted: “the womb of the Palestinian woman will defeat the Zionists.” The American president ominously warned: “Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

But predictions of Israel’s looming demographic calamity are hardly new. During the First Intifada, Haifa University professor Arnon Sofer anticipated that Israel would become “non-Jewish” by the turn of the century. Early in the new century, Israeli demographer Sergio Della-Pergola imagined that before its first decade ended “Jews will become a minority in the lands that include Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.” It did not happen.

Such “demographic panic” has been fed by false data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. In 2007 it claimed that 2,500,000 Arabs inhabited the West Bank and Jerusalem. But even the Bureau head conceded that these exaggerated numbers represented “a civil intifada” designed to undermine Jewish settlements. Other Palestinian ministries acknowledged a considerably lower West Bank population of 1.6 million Arabs. As Israeli demographer Yoram Ettinger has warned: “Beware of Palestinians bearing demographic numbers.”

During the past two decades Arab births west of the Jordan River have stabilized while Jewish births have increased. When Israel celebrated its sixty-fifth anniversary of independence in 2013, six million Jews (including 350,000 settlers in Judea and Samaria) comprised 75.3% of its population, which also included 1.6 million Arab citizens (20.7 percent). Even including 1.6 million West Bank Palestinians, Israel still enjoyed nearly a 2:1 majority west of the Jordan River.

Birth-rate projections indicate continued Jewish population growth, largely concentrated among settler and ultra-Orthodox families, in conjunction with a declining Arab share of Israeli births. The most recent numbers from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics report that in 2013 the Jewish birthrate increased by 1.3 percent while the Muslim birthrate fell by 5.5 percent. Given available data, it is highly unlikely that Jews will be outnumbered in the foreseeable future, except in the forebodings of settlement critics and the longings of Palestinians for a Judenrein state.

But there will always be gullible journalists, New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren conspicuous among them. In her interview with Tareq Abbas, son of the president of the Palestinian Authority (now in the ninth year of his four-year term), she wrote (March 19): “Palestinians are comforted by demographics. There are already more Arabs than Jews living between the river and the sea, plus millions of Palestinian refugees, and generally higher Palestinian birthrates.” She was glaringly wrong on all counts.

As for actual Palestinian refugees, only UNRWA, the United Nations organization that exists to exaggerate and perpetuate their numbers, believes that bloated figure. There surely are millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees (as there are of Holocaust victims). But the actual number of Palestinian refugees still living is estimated at 30-50,000. Even if they all returned to Israel next month it would make no significant demographic difference in the Jewish state.

The far more horrific refugee problem, which the world prefers to ignore, is 2.5 million Syrians who have recently been driven from their country. As Anne Barnard wrote in the Times (March 18), “the Syrian displacement dwarfs the exodus from British-mandate Palestine during the war over Israel’s founding in 1948.” Palestinians take notice.

What does it say about Israel’s critics that egregious distortions continue to place Palestinian refugees on center stage, feeding the worldwide delegitimization of Israel as a racist apartheid state, while Syrian refugees are all but ignored?

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Jewish State Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy, to be published in April.

6 Comments

  • Markus Elkana Brajtman

    Time for your writers to stop refering to “settlers”
    The Jews/Israelis are not ‘setlers” in their own G-D given, Biblical homelands.

    The only settlers are the Arabs/”Palestinians” who came from Arab lands, to find work, as they could not find world in the deserts whence they came from.

    The world “Palestinian” is, as many politicians have called, THE INVENTED PEOPLE”. Invented by arch terrorists, Arafat.

    The Jews living in what was called Palestine, were, and are also Palestinians
    There never were Arabs called palestinians.

    Mark Twain said that when he travelled theough the Holy land, he found it mainly desolate deserts.
    Jerusalem was a small town, with a few hundred inhabitants.
    It was never an Arab town, but was always known as THE JEWISH HOLY CITY”

    FOR 2000 YEARS, JEWS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD have been praying a few times every day, “to return to Yerushalaim, Jerusalem.”

    The Arabs/Muslims have never ever had any prayers for Jerusalem. It is mantioned in the Torah more than 600 times, but not once in the Koran.

    Why do the Muslims want to take part of Jerusalem?

    because they built their two mosques on the Jewish Holy temple.

    Unfortunately, when the IDF captured Jerusalem from the real settlers, the Jordanains, the one eyed general, Moshe Dayan, who must have been blind in his other eye, tld the WAKF that they can control the Ol City, which houses the Kotel.

    That was a desaster beyond words. What right did he have, just “off the cuff” to give control to the sworn enemy of the Jews, without the approval of the PM and the Jewish people?

    Not one inch of Jewish biblical land must ever be given to our sworn enemy who is going all out to destroy Israel and the Jews

  • To any Jew hater, truth is the enemy, always has been, always will be. When you start out with a working hypothesis that Arabs will dwarf the Jews soon, no facts can be permitted to get in the way.

  • Amen Edward!

  • Jeffrey Cheah

    The State of Israel is promised by the God of Israel, thousands of years before to the patriarchs of old, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob(Israel)and how can men go against the will and the promise of Israel’s God. Any Jew who believes in the writing of Isaiah, the prophet can find comfort that the present Israel will remain Jewish! If those who have not read the Book of Isaiah, read Chapter 19 – 30 and then Chapter 60 to the end of that Book, you can find the comfort from the reading and you will have no worry of its demographic change!

  • Edward Alexander

    Another indispensable utterance from Prof. Auerbach of Wellesley. He is a reminder that American Jewry is divided between those who judge Judaism by the standards of the New York Times and those who judge the New York Times by the standards of Judaism.

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