Israel knows very well how to defend itself from its enemies, but cannot identify severe dangers if they come without guns blazing. We put these these dangers from our minds, since fighting against them involves no blood, fire or columns of smoke.
The battle in question is the one over population growth, and it will be a mighty challenge to persuade family-oriented Israelis of the necessity of winning this battle. Will any politician dare to say in public that having so many children is anything over than a pure joy?
Such a brave politician would be attacked with well-known slogans: The Jewish people need to compensate for the loss of six million souls in the Holocaust, to multiply and gain strength like the Hebrews in Egypt, to counter the fertility of Arab women, and to produce soldiers for the fight against the hundreds of millions who come upon us to destroy us.
In October, the Israel Forum for Population, Environment and Society (known in Hebrew as "Tsafuf" or crowded) held a convention headed by Prof. Alon Tal, whose recent book warned of demographic dangers. Prof. Rachelle Alterman, an urban planner, gave a lecture describing Israel’s scenery in 15 years time. According to her, nearly all of us will be living in towers but conducting our public lives underground.
Our country will be a large carpet of cement—from Ashkelon to Nahariya—spreading north and south. If we’ll want to relax under a tree we’ll need to book two years in advance.
Alterman was joined by other researchers who compared us to Singapore, a city-state that manages to fit a similar size population on an island smaller than Israel.
But these crowded countries and city-states—Singapore, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Belgium—they all have a way out via neighboring countries. We don’t.
The Shoresh Institution, headed by economist Prof. Dan Ben-David, published a report similar to Alterman’s, but through the perspective of the economy. Soon, the report says, Israel will be the world’s most crowded nation. More crowded than Bangladesh, the current holder of the top spot.
One of the more well-known indications of over-crowding is Israel's raging traffic, almost three times as bad as in Europe. Poor public transport services leads people to huddle around big cities for work purposes, a trend that endangers population distribution.
Since the demographic growth is uneven between sectors, and since income is dependant on education, and our education system is failing—there is a growing number of citizen who are becoming a burden on the rest of us. Our workforce productivity is behind in comparison to the developed world, and if this process continues it will surely bring about economic crisis.
If we want to find a way out of this looming disaster, says Ben-David, there’s no other way but to restrain population growth. Families with a large number of children should not be encouraged with generous allowances, housing benefits or subsidized fertility treatments. Education has to improve, and core subjects most of all—the kind that let one find a profitable trade. The best teachers should be chosen, and the entire education system has to be better managed.
If our national agenda is to be drawn from Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s desire to be appointed minister of war, and abandon the Education ministry—we don’t stand much chance.