December 8, 2013
demographicsSunday, September 22, 2013
Are Jews a minority in Israel?
J.J. Goldberg from The Forward has an opinion.
An online article comparing the number of Jews and Arabs living in Israel asserts that Jews are now a minority in the country. The article, published on the website of The Forward on Friday compares the annual population estimate released by Israel’s Census Bureau with population figures for the West Bank and Gaza from the CIA World Factbook, and concluded that Palestinian Arabs outnumber Jews by a total of 50,827. The report also lists the total Arab population living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, according to the Israeli Census.
It lists 2.676.740 in the West Bank and 1.763.387 in Gaza Strip.
The number of Arabs living within Israel and the disputed territories is a highly politicized demographic question, which often generates conflicting numbers.
In contrast with the latest article, recent publications on the same issue maintain that if present trends continue, the proportion of Jews in Israel and the West Bank will remain roughly constant and may even rise.
“The Israeli Jewish fertility rate has risen to three children per female while the Arab fertility rate has fallen to the point where the two trend lines have converged and perhaps even crossed,” wrote David P. Goldman, a contributor to the online Jewish magazine Tablet in 2011. “A 2006 study by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies claims that the West Bank and Gaza population in 2004 was only 2.5 million, rather than the 3.8 million claimed by the Palestinian authorities.”
The question cuts to the heart of what some have termed Israel’s demographic time bomb, as the country grapples with keeping itself a Jewish state while maintaining its commitment to democracy. While Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza do not currently enjoy Israeli citizenship, calls to extend them rights in the absence of a peace treaty could place Israel's Jewish and democratic character at peril.
“Most of the middle- and long-term demographic forecasts for Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip—formulated by demographers over the last 110 years—have turned out to be unsound, often dramatically so. This is due to the fact that long-term military, political, economic, and social changes in the region particularly, and in the world in general, cannot be accurately predicted; what is presented with a patina of scientific legitimacy is often simply someone's best guess," wrote Yakov Faitelson, author of Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel.
“Added to this problem is a more troublesome one: Population statistics and birth rates play such an important role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — from the way that foreign aid is allocated to Israel's decision to hold or relinquish territory—that those attempting to manipulate the perceptions of both the public and policymakers are irresistibly drawn to the field."
In the Jewish daily, Goldberg, qualified the study by addressing his decision to include Palestininian Arabs living in Gaza, where “some of the laws of occupation no longer apply but some still do.” Israel disengaged from the territory in 2005, but still controls access to the area accessible from the Israeli border and from the sea.
Whether the Jews are actually a minority in the Jewish State of Israel and what that means politically comes as Washington-backed peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are set to get underway have raised tensions and fuelled isolated incidents. Yesterday, an Israeli soldier was abducted and killed by a Palestinian man hoping to use the dead soldier's body as a bargaining chip to secure the release of his brother from an Israeli prison during negotiations.
Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners last month, and is expected to release about 75 more in three phases before next summer.