Israel's Demographic Time-Bomb: Defused?

I've yet to hear a prediction of the demographics of a future Israel/Palestine that projects a stable Jewish majority for decades to some. In fact, though, the demographic crisis within the 1967 lines is beginning to be revealed as a chimera - because of very high birthrates among the Israeli religious right and gradually declining birthrates among Israeli Arab citizens. Here's a paragraph from Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?:

In 2001, there were around 95,000 Jewish births in Israel and 41,000 Arab births. Just seven years later, in 2008, Jewish births had risen to over 117,000, but Arab births had declined to less than 40,000. In a period that constitutes barely a quarter of a generation, Arab births had fallen from around 30 percent of the total to around 25 percent. This has been a steady trend and, should it continue, it will only be a very short time before Jewish and Arab births each year are broadly proportionate to the overall balance of Jews and Arabs in the population as whole – that is, 4:1, or 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively. 

But when you add the West Bank and Gaza to the equation, the demographic problem re-emerges. Which is why, in my view, those of us who are urgently calling for a two-state solution are better Zionists in many ways than the AIPAC crowd. AIPAC's current strategy all but guarantees Israel losing its status as a Jewish majority state. But an alternative is available. Razib Khan adds perspective:

Israel is on of the world’s most ethnically diverse societies, with broad ethno-national categories of Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, and Sephardim, though even within these categories there is variation. In addition to this, there are divisions between secular Jews, religious, but not strictly Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jews of a modern bent, and finally, the Haredi. In this framework arguably the Ashkenazi are bimodal, concentrated among the secular and Haredi segments, while the non-Ashkenazi Jews tend to be religious, but not hyper-observant. On top of this there are also hyper-secular Russian Jews, many of whom are only partly Jewish in origin, as well as the non-Jewish minorities, mostly Arabs.

Haredi Jews are the most ‘conservative’ of Orthodox Jews. We gentiles would probably recognize them as the Jews who ‘dress weird.’ The Hasidic communities are famous, but there are also non-Hasidic Haredi Jewish groups. In Britain the Haredim are 17 percent of the Jewish community. But shockingly they’re currently 75% of the births currently in Britain to Jews! Kaufmann also claims that the Haredi are now ~10% of American Jews in 2010, which would mean that the Orthodox as a whole are now gaining. The patterns in Israel are also striking, though more complex. ... In 1960 15 percent of elementary age students in Israel were Arab or Haredi. In 2010 ~50% are. It is because of the Haredi that Israel does not face an immediate demographic crisis as a Jewish state ...

More to the point, it seems to me, is that if these stats are borne out over the long term - a huge if, of course - then the proportion of Israelis who are deeply religious will soon easily eclipse the secular Ashkenazi generations of the past. Hence the recent disturbing cultural moments captured in our "Epidemic Of Not Watching" thread.

Israel, it seems to me, could well become an ugly, religiously fundamentalist state with an apartheid religious minority within it. Or it could become a coherent, religious, non-apartheid Jewish state without the occupied territories. What it won't be is a secular outpost of modernity in a still fundamentalist region.

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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