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March 28, 2018 3:23 pm

Demographic Time Bomb? Mistaken or Misleading

avatar by Yoram Ettinger

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A Tel Aviv street corner. Photo: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons. –  The “demographic time bomb” concept accords mythical standards to Arab fertility and European standards to Jewish fertility, ignoring the Westernization of Arab fertility and the surging secular Jewish fertility, while significantly underestimating the potential of Jewish immigration (aliyah) to Israel, which has been steady and continuous since 1882.

In March 1898, the leading Jewish demographer historian, Shimon Dubnov, published a demographic projection, aiming to dissuade Theodor Herzl from the vision of the reconstruction of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel: “in 1998, there will be only half a million Jews in the Land of Israel. … Political Zionism is wishful-thinking.” Herzl was not deterred, although there was a meager 9 percent Jewish minority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel.

In October 1944, Professor Roberto Bachi, the founder of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, published a demographic projection, intending to convince Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, that a population of then 600,000 Jews was not a critical mass for the re-establishment of the Jewish state: “In 2001, there will be, under the best case scenario, 2.3 [million] Jews, a 34% minority… .” Ben-Gurion proceeded to re-establish the Jewish state despite the mere 55 percent Jewish majority in the area partitioned for it, and the 39 percent Jewish minority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel.

In 1946, Ben-Gurion published Israel Trivus document, No Arab Majority in the Land of Israel, which exposed substantial deficiencies in the population censuses conducted by the British Mandate in 1922 and 1931, similar to the deficiencies of the contemporary Palestinian census: the inclusion of overseas residents in the census; the double-count of people moving from rural areas to urban centers; the inflation of numbers by clan leaders for political and economic reasons; the under-reporting of deaths. A June 10, 1993 document of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics noted that according to Palestinian reporting, Palestinian life expectancy, supposedly, exceeded life expectancy in the USA.

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In 2018, Israel is the sole Western democracy and modern economy that benefits from a tailwind of fertility and net migration, providing for sustained economic growth with minimal foreign labor. Thus, in 2016, in defiance of the “demographic time bomb” concept, and for the first time ever, the Jewish fertility rate (3.16 births per woman) exceeded the Arab fertility rate (3.11). Notwithstanding the mild decline of the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate, there was a surge in the number of Jewish births from 80,400 in 1995 to 140,000 in 2017, while the number of Arab births rose mildly from 36,000 to 43,500. The share of Jewish births out of total births was 69 percent in 1995, rising to 76.5 percent in 2017, reflecting the rise of Jewish optimism, patriotism, attachment to roots, collective responsibility and the significant decline in the number of abortions.

In 2018, the fertility rates in the Muslim world (except for the Sub-Sahara region) are substantially Westernized due to urbanization (e.g., from a 70 percent rural society, the Palestinian Authority evolved into a 75 percent urban society), integration of women into the labor and education systems (completing high school and increasingly enrolling in colleges and universities), the surge of wedding age above 20, a decline of teen pregnancy and a dramatic expansion of the use of contraceptives. For example, Iran and Saudi Arabia feature two births per woman; Egypt, 3.6; Jordan, 3.2; and the Palestinian Authority, three births per woman.

In 2018, in Israel, there are 7 million Jews, along with 130,000 Druze, 130,000 Christian Arabs and 1.6 million Muslims, in addition to 1.85 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria. The 65.5 percent Jewish majority, in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel, benefits from a tailwind of fertility — mostly because of the secular sector — and a potential wave of aliyah of hundreds of thousands of Jews (requiring the reinstatement of a pro-active aliyah policy by the Israeli government) from France, Germany, additional European countries, Russia, the Ukraine, Moldova, Argentina and Britain.

Israel’s demographic surge, quantitatively and qualitatively, is bolstering the size of its future classes of military recruits and the labor force, which enhances reality-based optimism, militarily and economically. It also feeds a demographically confident national security policy since there is no lethal demographic threat, which could lead to a retreat from geography (the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria) in order to save demography.

The concept that Israel is, ostensibly, facing a demographic time bomb is either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.

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