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Yoram Ettinger Photo: Gabi Menashe
Yoram Ettinger Photo: Gabi Menashe
 
 

The power of aliyah

Op-ed: Israel’s demographic optimism can be further boosted by growing Jewish immigration

Yoram Ettinger
Published: 08.11.10, 10:59 / Israel Opinion

In 2010, a surge in the Israeli Jewish fertility rate is a long-term, unique, global phenomenon, while fertility rates decline sharply in the Third World in general and in Muslim countries in particular.

 

In 2010, there is a 66% Jewish majority in 98.5% of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (without Gaza) – and a 58% Jewish majority with Gaza. That Jewish majority benefits from a demographic tailwind and from a high potential of aliyah (Jewish immigration) and of returning Israeli expatriates.

 

In comparison, in 1900 and 1947 there was an 8% and a 33% Jewish minority, deprived of economic, technological and military infrastructures. In 2010, the number of Arabs in Judea and Samaria is inflated by 900,000 (1.6 million and not 2.5 million) through the inclusion of 400,000 overseas residents, a double-count of 200,000 Jerusalem Arabs (who are counted as Israeli Arabs by Israel and as West Bank Arabs by the Palestinian Authority), and by ignoring annual net-emigration since 1950 (e.g. 17,000 in 2009), etc. Meanwhile, a World Bank study documents a 32% “inflation” in Palestinian birth numbers.

 

Since the appearance of modern-day Zionism, the demographic establishment has contended that Jews are doomed to be a minority west of the Jordan River. It asserts that Jews must relinquish geography in order to secure demography. But, what if demographic fatalism is based on dramatically erroneous assumptions and numbers? What if the demographic establishment has adopted Palestinian numbers without auditing, although such numbers are refuted annually by an examination of birth, death, migration and 1st grade registration records?

 

What if the contended Palestinian numbers require a population growth rate almost double the highest population growth rate in the world, while Gaza and Judea and Samaria are ranked 5th and 38th in global population growth rate? What if the demographic establishment failed to realize that the Arab demographic surge of 1949-1969 (in pre-1967 Israel) and 1967-1990 (in Judea and Samaria and Gaza) had to be succeeded by a sharp demographic decline?

 

Contrary to demographic projections, the first half of 2010 sustains the growth of the Jewish fertility rate and the sharp and rapid fall of the Arab fertility rate throughout the Muslim World, as well as west of the Jordan River. The decline in Arab fertility results from accelerated urbanization and modernization processes, such as education, health, employment, family planning, reduced teen pregnancy, enhanced career mentality among women, in addition to domestic security concerns.

 

Another potential immigration wave

The Washington-based Population Resource Center reported a sharp dive in global Muslim fertility, trending toward two births per woman. For instance, Iran shrunk from 8 births 30 years ago to 1.7, Egypt – 2.5, North Africa – 1.9, Jordan – a “twin sister” of Judea and Samaria – is below 3 births per woman and Judea and Samaria’s fertility rate is 3.2 in 2010. According to demographic precedents, there is a very slight probability of resurrecting high fertility rates following a prolonged period of significant reduction.

 

In contrast with demographic fatalism, the share of Jewish births in pre-1967 Israel has increased in 2010 – mostly due to the secular sector - to 76% of total births, compared with 75% in 2009 and 69% in 1995. From 80,400 births in 1995 the number of Jewish births catapulted by 50% to 121,000 in 2009, while the annual number of Arab births has stabilized at 39,000 due to their most impressive integration into Israel’s infrastructures of modernity.

 

The fertility gap between Arabs (3.5 births per woman and trending downward) and Jews (2.9 and trending upward) was reduced from 6 birth per woman in 1969 to 0.6 in 2009. The erosion in the Arab fertility rate is 20 years faster than projections made by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

 

In 2010, Israel’s demographic establishment determined that aliyah sources have been drained. However, during the 1980s, it dismissed any notion of a massive aliyah from the USSR – even if the gates were open – due to cultural, economic and security reasons. But, over one million Olim reached the Jewish State as a result of Prime Minister Shamir’s initiatives: limiting Soviet Jews to direct flights from Moscow to Israel only and terminating the issuance – by the USA - of refugee certificates to Soviet Jews.

 

During the 1970s it was suggested that Western Jews can, but don’t wish to, emigrate, while Communist Bloc Jews wish to, but cannot, emigrate. But, 300,000 Jews reached Israel due to Prime Minister Golda Meir’s initiatives. In 1948, the founders of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics mocked Ben Gurion’s vision of a massive aliyah. But, one million Olim arrived in the Jewish Homeland due to Ben Gurion’s initiatives.

 

In 2010, there is a unique potential for another wave of aliyah and returning expatriates, due to the economic meltdown and the rise of anti-Semitism in the former USSR, France, Britain and Argentina, as well as the long-term US economic crisis. Will Jerusalem resurrect drastic pro-aliyah activity? Will Jerusalem realize that aliyah is the raison d’etre of the Jewish State and the crux of its national security and economy? Will Jerusalem elevate aliyah to the top of its order of national priorities, thus dramatically bolstering the Jewish majority and uprooting demographic fatalism from the public debate over the territorial boundaries of the Jewish State?

 

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