Although most people don’t realize it, Israel is the only Western country that has a positive birthrate: 2.68 children per mother. The requisite figure to sustain population, without including immigration, is 2.1. For comparison’s sake, the world average is 2.42; EU: 1.61; Japan: 1.4; Singapore: .81. (CIA, 2015) What does Israel’s population growth portend for its future?
I believe that Israel can accommodate many more people, especially since Israeli ingenuity is world-renowned. Israeli population density is relatively low – 387 people per sq kilometer. Compare that to NJ: 3,095; the Netherlands: 500; Singapore: 8,350; Manhattan: 18,000; Paris: 20,164; Tel Aviv: 5,050. While some think that the world will have too many Jews in the future (among an excess of every race, color and creed), I say the more Jews the better.
Alon Tal, perhaps Israel’s most influential environmentalist, wrote about this subject in The New York Times (July 25) Excerpts follow:
[a] Given that Israel has the highest birthrate in the developed world, those who care about its future should realize that demographic growth is no longer a blessing but a threat to the quality of life in the Jewish state.
[b] Israel’s schools, highways and courts are among the most crowded in the Western world. The relentless congestion heightens collective and individual anxiety. Housing shortages and soaring prices are a national affliction, all fueled by ever-growing demand.
[c] Poverty, too, will never be reduced until the country checks the relentless expansion of its population. More than a quarter of Israeli children live below the poverty line; a majority of those live in families with five or more children.
[d]Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics projects that by 2059 the population will have doubled to 15 million, and possibly more than 20 million, which would make Israel’s population density far in excess of today’s most crowded countries, like Japan or the Netherlands.
[e] It is Israel’s high fertility rate — 50 percent higher than most other Western countries — that puts it on an unsustainable course. This didn’t happen naturally; it is the result of decades of government programs that encouraged large families and created obstacles to abortion.
Let’s address these contentions. Anxiety: Israel is the world’s 11th most happy country. Poverty: many of Israel’s poor families, including ultra-Orthodox men or Arab women, choose not to join the workforce, voluntarily consigning their families to “poverty” status. (The good news is that more people from both of these populations are joining the work force every year.) Abortion: Israel’s abortion laws are now among the world’s most liberal and the number of abortions is lower than in all of Western and Central Europe excepting Croatia.
What about housing, which is very expensive? The main cause is supply, not demand. There aren’t enough people in the construction industry, too many people currently insist on living in the “center,” and Israeli bureaucracy needs to be streamlined. If more modern construction methods were utilized (instead of cheap foreign labor) the housing shortage would disappear.
Israel’s high population density is high only in the middle of this small country (about the size and population of New Jersey), not in the north or south. The Negev desert is 2/3 of the land mass of Israel (the southern part) and is sparsely populated. Because Israel is a world leader in anti-desertification, the Negev is rapidly opening up to new building and industry. The prevailing feeling among Israelis is that if you live 45 minutes from Tel Aviv you are in the periphery, not within easy commuting distance, is dissipating.
That is a result of the mass transportation boom. Though still far behind Europe, Israel is way ahead of the US. As highways and rail lines increase, more people move to cheaper areas further from TA, Jerusalem, and Haifa. The Negev desert and its “capital,” Beersheba, are gaining popularity and new industry, housing and communities, just as founding father David Ben-Gurion foretold: “It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneer vigor of Israel shall be tested.”
Today, the entire military establishment is being relocated to the Negev. The south is exploding with opportunities in agriculture, medicine, cyber-technology, etc., while housing opportunities are drawing young families to the region. Also, in the northern Galilee region, new cities and development are being supported by the state and by organizations such as the Jewish National Fund.
I will conclude my argument for a “bigger” Israel with the subject of burgeoning Jewish births. I believe, the more the merrier. Jews are extraordinary – just check the lists of Nobel prizes, Wolf prizes, Fields medals, lists of outstanding researchers, medical doctors, writers, professors, and so on. The impact of Jews is far beyond our numbers, leaving most people incredulous when they learn how few Jews there are in the world: 0.2% (two-tenths of one percent).
Having more Jews in the world, especially in Israel, will be a blessing, not a problem. Even if our population quadrupled, Jews would still be a minuscule minority. That’s why I think that Alon Tal’s warnings about an increase in Jewish population are mistaken. Jews are problem- solvers who will help solve the problems of over-population.