Myth of Israels Demographic Doomsday
By Gregg Roman
December 9, 2016
Critics of Israel love to exploit Jewish fears and
anxieties. The most extreme resort to Holocaust inversion, boycotts, blacklists,
and other singling-out methods reminiscent of Europe's anti-Semitic past.
Secretary of State John
Kerry likes to wave around the threat of Israel's demographic extinction.
Acute Israeli sensitivity on this matter came to the fore
in the late 1960s, when Israeli rule over the newly won Gaza Strip and West Bank
was thought by many to be untenable owing to much-higher Palestinian birth
rates. If Israel chose to annex the territories, it would be obliged either to
disenfranchise their Palestinian inhabitants, making Israel undemocratic, or
extend the vote and watch Israel's Jewish majority turn into a minority. For
Israel to remain both a democratic and a Jewish state, according to the
conventional wisdom, it would have to give the territories up. "The womb of
the Arab woman," the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat famously said,
was his "best weapon."
Fast-forward five decades. According to the Palestinian
Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the number of (non-Jewish) Arabs living in
the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem (4.62 million) and in Israel (1.68
million) for the first time matches the number of Jews (6.3 million). Taking
into account still-higher Palestinian birthrates, as neatly graphed out in a
September 2016 full-page New York Times advertisement
by a pro-Palestinian group, the Jewish population in the expanse of territory
"from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River" is projected to
decline to 44 percent in 2030.
In his drive to wrest Israeli concessions he believes will
break the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic logjam, Secretary Kerry has repeatedly
warned of a demographic doomsday for Israel. "How does Israel possibly
maintain its character as a Jewish and democratic state when from the river to
the sea, there would not even be a Jewish majority?" he warned
last December. Time is "running out" for Israel, Kerry maintains,
insinuating that Arabs will be even less likely to accept a Jewish state as part
of the former Palestine mandate once they become an overall majority, instead
returning to their demand for a "one-state" solution. Israel then winds
up "either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or
... a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state."
But time is not running out, at least not for Israel. There
are three big problems with the demographic doomsday argument.
For starters, the central underlying premise of this
argument that the combined ratio of Jews to non-Jews in Israel, the West
Bank and Gaza matters is laughably obsolete. There's no more reason to
include Gaza in the equation than to include Lebanon or Jordan. The Israeli
occupation there ended a decade ago, and its 1.6 million residents are pretty
much free to determine their own future but for the brutal rule of their own
homegrown Islamist regime. Indeed, most Palestinians in the West Bank also live
in self-rule areas that Israel has effectively vacated and does not wish to
The real question, then, isn't what happens if Israel were
to suddenly annex all territories where Palestinians live en masse, but what
happens if it holds on only to territories that most Israelis want and can be
easily defended? Jews currently make up roughly 80 percent of Israeli citizens,
and there's no reason to believe this figure will be appreciably affected by
implementation of a final status agreement.
The second problem with Kerry's alarmism is that the
oft-cited official PCBS estimates and projections of Arab population growth have
been deliberately inflated to boost the PA's negotiating stance and qualify for
more foreign aid. Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli consul, found
that PA numbers are inflated by, among other things, counting roughly 400,000
Palestinians who have lived abroad for a year or more a large portion of
whom won't be coming back if they can help it including some 100,000 babies
born abroad (ditto).
Third, Kerry seems blithely unaware that the birth rate of
Israeli Jews, which reached a low of 2.6 in the 1990s, has been rising steadily
in recent years, to 3.1 in 2015 the same
as that of Israeli Arabs even as Palestinian birth rates have steadily
declined, to 3.7. With the highest birth rate in the developed world and
substantial Jewish immigration adding to their ranks every year, Israeli Jews
are not at risk of becoming a minority in the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately for Secretary Kerry, most Israelis are well
aware that time is not running out on Israel's future as a democratic Jewish
state. A democratic Jewish state is very much in existence and running strong.
For all of the loud condemnations of Israel on Western college campuses,
Israel's diplomatic relations are stronger than ever before, even in the Arab
world, and its international trade is massively expanding. It's kind of hard to
rain on that parade. Most Israelis couldn't care less if Gazans or West Bankers
choose to have slightly bigger families than the inhabitants of Tel Aviv.
When John Kerry declares again and again that Israel is
"out of time," what he's really doing is communicating to Palestinians
that the much dreaded Jewish state next door will cease to exist if they simply
continue their refusal to compromise.
If the next secretary of state wants to bring about peace
between Israelis and Palestinians, he should try appealing to their hopes, not