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Yoram Ettinger. Getting demographic story straight Photo: Gabi Menashe
Yoram Ettinger. Getting demographic story straight Photo: Gabi Menashe
 
 

A man on a mission

Former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger out to debunk Israel’s ‘demographic myth’

Yigal Walt
Published: 01.01.10, 14:12 / Israel News

When Yoram Ettinger speaks his voice booms with conviction and his eyes are alight – however, one is bound to be persuaded, not to mention stunned, mostly by the figures and conclusions he presents.

 

The former diplomat is part of an American-Israeli research team devoted to debunking prevalent demographic views regarding Israel’s future; the group’s ground-breaking research paints a much rosier picture, predicting a solid Jewish majority in the region for years to come.

 

The figures painstakingly collected and analyzed by Ettinger and his colleagues are startling, particularly for Israelis who for years have been warned of the demographic sword hanging over the Jewish State’s future. The data point to grossly exaggerated Palestinian growth predictions, statistical flaws resulting in inaccurate figures, steadily growing Jewish birthrates, and a dramatically declining Arab-Israeli birthrate.

 

Ettinger has been tirelessly presenting the research to leading Israeli policymakers and other influential figures nationwide. In an interview with Ynetnews he recounts some of the astonished responses he has encountered during his quest; this includes a taken aback Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was presented with the data during the previous government’s term in office.

 

“Barak told me: ‘Until I saw this presentation I didn’t know the facts…it would be good to present it soon to (then-Prime Minister) Ehud Olmert and to (then-Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni, who still don’t know the facts,’” Ettinger says.

 

‘As a Jew, I will sleep better at night’

The former diplomat says that getting the demographic story straight is crucial for decision makers, regardless of their political views.

 

Possessing a more realistic understanding of Israel’s demographic future enables political leaders to make decisions that are not based on an unfounded sense of doom, he says, adding that senior officials who hold vastly different political views than him nonetheless embraced the findings he has presented.

 

“Major General (Res.) Shlomo Gazit asked that I present my information to his colleagues, senior military figures and academicians, despite the very large differences in our worldview,” Ettinger says.

 

Similarly favorable reactions were voiced by former National Security Advisor Giora Eiland, he says. “He clearly said: ‘You have drastically changed my demographic perception,” Ettinger recounts.

 

One of the most memorable responses Ettinger recalls came from former Finance Minister and Labor Party stalwart Avraham Shochat.

 

“After seeing the figures he told me: ‘While you are never going to transform me into a hawk, I’m very grateful to you because due to your findings, as a Jew, I will sleep much better at night from now on,” Ettinger says

 

‘No room for fatalism’

The figures presented by Ettinger seem to be unmistakable, and their immense significance begs the question of why decision-makers themselves have not embarked on such research before in order to challenge common perceptions.

 

“This reality shouldn’t surprise anyone,” Ettinger says. “The demographic issue is a symptom of the way decision-makers act on many issues.”

 

Similarly to the conception that led to the Yom Kippur War, Israeli politicians tend to rely on commonly accepted conceptions instead of attempting to question reality, he says.

 

“To my regret, usually only a crisis wakes up the sleeping people,” Ettinger says, adding that the failure to challenge the demographic myth also reflects Israel’s current leadership crisis.

 

“We are facing a leadership drought…and it’s easier for decision-makers to continue navigating on automatic pilot, rather than to look for new approaches,” he says.

 

Ettinger says the conclusions of the research are highly significant, clear and unequivocal.

 

“Because Jews are not doomed to become a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, there is no room for fatalism in our process of policy-making,” he says. “When policy-makers, military leaders, investors, or potential immigrants evaluate the future of the Jewish State optimistically, rather than fatalistically, this is the difference between growth and eventual oblivion.”

 

“The bottom line of the study is that anybody who attempts to deploy demographic fatalism in order to scare Jews into excessive concessions is either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading, “Ettinger concludes. “It is absolutely legitimate to call for a retreat on moral, democratic or security grounds, yet it is absolutely immoral to call for such a retreat on demographic grounds.”

 

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