Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Demographic Trends of Israelis and Palestinians

Yaakov Feitelson has a new study examining demographic trends in Israel and the Palestinians territories. His bottom line is that there are more Jews than there were expected to be, and fewer Palestinians. The latter sections of his study will probably be rejected by all sorts of people. I once took a course in demography, and occasionally dabble in it (as a reader, not a researcher), and if someone serious explains why his projections may not be solid I'll listen with an open mind. It's got a tendentious whiff to it.

The front parts of the study, on the other hand, confirm everything I've seen over the past five years or so. The birthrate of the Israeli Arabs is declining, as is that of the West Bank and even the Gaza Palestinians, while the Jewish birthrate is inching up.

The rise of the Jewish birthrate contradicts everything I've ever heard about how demography in developed society works, and it seems to be the result of four trends, all of which boil down to one.

1. The stratospheric Haredi birthrate, which shows no sign of abating, even as the Haredi women join the workforce in ever growing numbers.

2. The high birthrate of the modern orthodox, even though they are generally highly educated and middle class or above. They are however a smaller group than the Haredi, and they're not having the gigantic familes the Haredi have.

3. The unusually high birthrate of the secular Israelis, when compared to most Western societies. Secular Israelis, as a general rule, get married and have two or three kids. They've been doing this for a number of generations, and seem intent on continuing. Compare that to the Italians, Iranians or Russians.

4. The rise in the birthrate among the former Soviet Jews. These came here mostly about twenty years ago, with typical three-generation family units which were producing one, or at the most two, children. Once in Israel they managed to have grandma live somewhere else, not with her children; the children soon moved into Israel's middle class and adopted the mores of that group (see the previous paragraph about the secular Israelis).

The common denominator of all four trends is that Jews in Israel feel good about their lives and their prospects, so they have children who will enjoy those prospects. It's a profound optimism which is at work, aided perhaps by the memories of recent catastrophe - which reinforces the optimism, since present and future are so obviously better than the past.

Feitelson seems sort of to be saying the Jews can control all of Erez Israel and still remain the majority for the foreseeable future. This may be true but is politically unconvincing to me: even if he's right and in 2050 there will be a 60-40% majority of Jews, why would Zionism wish to have a country with 40% non-Jews? On the other hand, the implication that by then the ratio of Jews inside Israel itself (including Jerusalem, I'm assuming) will be 82% and rising is comforting, since with numbers like that there will be no contradiction between full democracy and a Jewish state.


Micha said...

The demographic-democratic arguments is this:

1) If Israel rules over an Arab population with no civil rights it will not be a democracy and it's legitimacy among its (democratic) allies will erode.

2) If Israel annexes the territories and gives citizenship to the Palestinians then the result will be a non-Jewish non-Zionist state. It will be either an Arab state with a large Jewish minority or a bi-national state with all the problems that it entails.

3) Only if Israel withdraws from the territories will it be a democratic and Jewish state with a comfortable Jewish majority and an Arab minority with equal civil rights.

People who dispute this argument do so in two contradictory ways:

1) The demographic information is wrong and the Jewish majority is secure even if you add the currently non-citizens Arabs of the territories.

2) The demographic information is even more bleak, and even if you count only the Arab citizens of Israel they will be a majority eventually. Therefore Israel cannot be Jewish and democratic.

The 1st arguments is wrong for several reasons.
1) Even if we don't assume that the non-citizen Arabs will become a majority immediately as a result of gaining citizenship, the upheaval of making them citizens will be great.

2) Even if we assume that in 50-100 years from now Jews will be the majority in all of the land of Israel, Israel cannot rule over Arab non citizens for decades while waiting for this optimistic outcome.

3) If the people presenting this argument were sincere, they would actually promote a policy of giving Arabs Israeli citizenship. But hey never did that.

The 2nd argument basically says that Israel must stop being a democracy that gives equal rights to non-Jewish minorities, if it is to exist as a Jewish state. The counter arguments are:

1) Israel cannot exist if it will not be democratic.

2) Even if we assume that some day in the future Arabs who are Israeli citizens may become a majority, the given time enables Israeli Jews to take action either to change the trend by increasing the size of their families or by immigration or by improving relationship with the Arab citizens to the point where a bi-nationalism will be less of a problem.

3) Demographic trends -- including those presented by the right (like Feitelson) seem to suggest the opposite, that demographic trends among Jews and Arabs who are Israeli citizens favor the continued existence of a Jewish and democratic state.

There's a similar left wing argument that says that Israel is doomed because the majority of it's citizens will be Arabs and Haredim. However, it seems strange to lump together the two groups as one threat to Jewish and democratic Israel. However, I hope that as Haredim become a larger majority they will feel the need to take more responsibility for the state as a whole instead of just their sector.

Barry Meislin said...

Now that's a fairly decent explanation of why the Palestinians aren't exactly falling over themselves trying to come to any agreement with the Israeli.

File under: "What? me worry?"

NormanF said...

The Arabs on the other hand see no future: between lack of jobs, dismal political prospects for real independence and the fact the Jews have all but disengaged from them means they have no hope of becoming the majority between the River and the Sea in this century.

One can expect the Arab population to decline somewhere to around 15% - still large but very tolerable and much of the rest will emigrate elsewhere if they're allowed.

Israel's future as the Jewish State looks quite secure. Its time to lay the hoary demographic doomsday scarecrow to rest.

NormanF said...

Barry, the Palestinians assume the Jews will be demoralized, weaken in their resolve and rush for the exits. The problem with that comforting daydream is the Jews have high morale, a high degree of national unity and as things grow worse for Jews abroad, more of them will come to as well as return to Israel. The Arabs are betting if they wait a century, the Jews will suffer the same fate as the Crusaders. Ya'acov in fact made this very point in his book about the moral case for Israel's wars. But waiting for your enemy to destroy himself is a poor strategy and dooms your own people to generations of pointless suffering. And its more likely the Palestinians could disappear while the Jews are still around. Who remembers the Canaanites today? When all is said and done, it should be recalled the Arabs have never really tried to understand the Jews - both when they were weak and now when they are strong and this has thwarted them in their aims every time in the last century through today.