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Israel: Trading one demographic time-bomb for another?

The demographic profile of Israel has been periodically celebrated by the retired Israeli Ambassador Yora Ettinger.

He published his latest celebratory piece on the subject under the title “2022 Jewish Demographic Momentum in Israel” in Israpundit of April 27, 2022

In this piece, Hettinger once again presents the population figures for 2021

First, to demonstrate that the alleged Arab demographic time-bomb is a myth, and

Second, to celebrate the Jewish fertility rate of 3 (number of births per woman) for 2020 which is now higher than that of both Israeli Arabs at 2.82 and the Judea Samaria Arabs at 2.96.

To reinforce his argument, he points out that in 1969 Israel’s Arab fertility rate was six births higher than the Jewish fertility rate.

He further points out that in 2021

  1.  The number of Israel’s Jewish birth was 76% higher than 1995 compared to the Arab births which was 20% for the same period.
  2. Jewish births were 76% of total births in the country compared to 69% in 1995.

He claims that “the surge of Jewish births has taken place due to the unprecedented rise of births since 1995 in the secular sector” emphasising word “secular” in bold font.

Ettinger claims that this growing Jewish fertility reflects” “optimism, patriotism, attachment to roots, communal solidarity, frontier-mentality and less abortions.”

He further attributes the declining Israeli Arabs fertility rate to “Arab demographic Westernization” and implies that this westernisation will result in a further decline of the Arab birth rate as illustrated by the much lower birth rates of Iran, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Ettinger reiterated these points in his subsequent article titled “2020 Demographic Update-Solid Jewish Majority” published on the 9th inst. by the Jewish Presscom where he concluded that there is “an unprecedented Jewish demographic tailwind.”

Tailwinds do not last forever. In this regard I wonder whether the current tailwind would keep up if the Israelis are forced have to live with the seemingly unrelenting terrorism which has beset the country.

Be that as it may, as a Diaspora Jew, I hope and pray that the facts, figures and trends provided by Ettinger will remain constant in the future and improve further compared to the Arab demographic profile.

The critical flaw

Ettinger’s analysis of the demographic profile of Israel is flawed because he ignores the critical problem of the historical, current and projected serious imbalance between the fertility rates of the Israeli ultra-orthodox (“haredi”) population and   that of the “secular” Jewish population.

He dismissed this issue out of hand by stating that “Since 1995, Israel’s ultra-orthodox sector has experienced a mild decrease in fertility”.

In the process, Ettinger ignores the key facts that despite such a decrease, the haredi fertility rate

a) Remains substantially higher than that of the “secular” Jews, and

b) This rate is projected to continue into the future.

Based on the behaviour patterns of the haredi, I consider this set of facts to constitute a political time bomb that will impact adversely the Israeli democracy; both internal and external national security and the socio-cultural fabric of the Israeli society. In a sense the haredi society constitutes a fifth column equipped with a time-bomb planted in the heart of Israel.

Haredi demographics: present and projected

The 2017 report of the Israel Democratic Institute (IDI), in line with those of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) estimated that by 2065, 43 years from now, the haredi will constitute about 33% of the population.

This figure was corroborated by the 2018 study published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies. The credibility of this projection is enhanced by the fact that according to Professor Yedidia Z. Stern, “fully fifty percent of all haredi were born in the twenty-first century… [making it] one of the youngest communities in the world”.

This May, L. Daniel Staatesky of the London based Institute for Jewish Policy Research published the report titled  “Haredi Jews around the world:  Population trends and estimates”.

The report identifies the sources on which the estimate of the future size of the Israeli haredi population  is based as follows: “(1) Paltiel, A., Sepulchre, M., Kornilenko, I., Maldonado, M. 2012. Long-range population projections for Israel: 2009-2059. Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel (Hebrew); (2) Malach, G. and Cahaner, L. 2020. Statistical report on ultra-Orthodox society in Israel. Ha-Machon ha-Israeli le-Demokraya (Hebrew); (3) Central Bureaus of Statistics 2021 Results of the CBS Social survey 2020, Table 28.1. “

“Further, the projection for Israel in the report is adopted from: Paltiel, A., Sepulchre, M., Kornilenko, I., Maldonado, M. 2012. Long range population projections for Israel: 2009-2059. Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel.”

In conclusion, the author estimates that the proportion of the haredi in the Jewish population Israel will climb from 14% today to 25% by 2040.

Staetesky further points out that besides the high fertility rate, the study revealed that the following two factors also contribute to the projected increase, namely

  1. Considerable longevity; and
  2. High level of “lifestyle retention” in the community; i.e. the percentage of haredi who leave the fold is so marginal as to have little impact on the overall demographic outlook of the community.

I propose to address, in the segments to follow, the manner in which the haredi demographic time-bomb will radically challenge Israel’s socio-cultural fabric, its democracy as well as both its internal and external security,

About the Author
Doğan Akman immigrated to Canada with his family. In Canada, he taught university in sociology-criminology and social welfare policy and published articles in criminology journals After a stint as a Judge of the Provincial Court (criminal and family divisions) of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, he joined the Federal Department of Justice as a Crown prosecutor, and then moved over to the to civil litigation branch . Since his retirement he has published articles in Sephardic Horizons and e-Sefarad and in an anthology edited by Rifat Bali titled "This is My New Homeland" published in Istanbul.
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