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February 03, 2011 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-02-03

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Editor's Letter

Financial Crisis
Ken Gross

A Jewish Israel


y 2014, a Jewish-Arab demographic parity between
the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will be
the precursor for an Arab majority. So claims the
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
As questionable as that source is,
Israeli demographers and politicians
fearful of the Jewish state's future cite
it in arguing that giving up the West
Bank will secure a Jewish major-
ity in Israel. The United Nations
and Norway — neither a bastion of
impartiality and professionalism —
supervise the PCBS, as dubious a sta-
tistical agency as there could be.
Retreat and concessions by Israel
seem to be the way of choice for fol-
lowers of forgoing the West Bank —
not debating the future of the militarily strategic mountain
ridges of Judea and Samaria, which are part of Eretz Yisrael,
the biblical Land of Israel.
The resulting fear of demography not only promotes a
pessimistic Israeli view of what lies ahead, but also erodes
Israel's bargaining position, says Yoram Ettinger, one of
Israel's sharpest analysts of Jewish-Palestinian demograph-
ics. While Israel has hopes of renewed talks with the Fatah-
led West Bank, it has little hope of ever finding Hamas-led
Gaza at the negotiating table.

Well Credentialed

Numbers Talk

Since 1967, Bacchi's students have tried to persuade Israeli
prime ministers to cast aside national security interests in
the face of the "demographic scare,' Ettinger says. They have
urged Israeli leaders "to sacrifice the irreplaceable geography
and topography" of the West Bank mountain ridges "on the
altar of demography."
By sticking to Bacchi's legacy, they underrate Jewish fertil-
ity, which is higher than most Arab countries (2.9 births per
woman and trending upward vs. 2.8 in Jordan, 2.5 in Egypt
and 2.5 in the Gulf states and trending downward). Moreover,
they ignore near-annual, net-Arab emigration from Judea,
Samaria and Gaza since 1950 while downplaying the prospect
of aliyah. It's as if Israel's mass arrival of Soviet Jews since the
1980s is a demographic blip.
Statehood has attracted more than 1 million olim (immi-
grants), Ettinger says, catapulting Israel "to unprecedented
heights technologically, medically, economically, culturally
and demographically."
Today, Israel is home to 7.5 million people: 79.8 percent are
Jews or affiliates (olim yet to be recognized as halachic Jews
by the Chief Rabbinate), 16.9 percent Muslim Arabs, 1.7 per-
cent Christian Arabs and 1.6 percent Druze.
Ettinger found a 66-percent Jewish majority in 98.5 percent
of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean
— Gaza excluded. If Gaza is factored in, there's still a 58-per-
cent Jewish majority in the region even before you consider
the strong prospects of increased aliyah and
returning Israeli expatriates.
A 2010 PCBS census inflated Judea and
Samaria Arabs by 66 percent (the actual count
is 1.6 million) and Gaza Arabs by 23 percent
(the right number is almost 1.3 million) — a
deception dating back to the first Gaza Strip-
West Bank census in 1997.

Ettinger is a member of the American-
Israel Demographic Research Group. He
is special projects chairman at the Ariel
Center for Policy Research in Shaarel Tikva
and a consultant to members of Israel's
cabinet and Knesset. He's the former con-
gressional affairs minister at the Israel
Embassy in Washington. I last wrote about
Be More Skeptical
his findings in August after, in a position
Ettinger is perplexed why Israeli leaders still
paper, he refuted the demographic fatalism
fear the numbers, especially because there has
relating to Eretz Yisrael. He pointed to Arab
been a 50 percent rise in the annual number
population misrepresentations rooted in
of Jewish births since 1995 thanks to more
political gain. At the same time, he painted Demographer Yo ram
women of childbearing age, notably in the sec-
a positive picture of growth in the Jewish
ular community. In comparison, the Arab birth
population, His conclusion: Israel stands to
rate inside the Green Line has stabilized.
remain a Jewish state.
My takeaway: There may be a land-for-peace component
Ettinger discounts the Arab notion that Jews are doomed
to an Israeli-Palestinian border agreement, but relinquishing
to become a minority west of the Jordan River. "Reality has
the West Bank's historically and militarily strategic mountain
refuted demographers of doom at least since the end of the
ridges out of fear over tenuous demographic concerns would
19th century," he says. In a Jan. 3 dispatch, he gives incisive
be foolhardy.
historical context:
It may be an overstatement to say if Herzl and Ben-Gurion
• In 1898, Shimon Dubnov, a Jewish demographer-his-
were optimistic in 1900 and 1947, respectively, when Jews were
torian, contended that Theodor Herzl's Zionist view lacked
a minority of 8 percent and 33 percent in their ancestral home-
demographic infrastructure because no more than 500,000
land, the Netanyahu government should share that optimism
Jews could be expected in Eretz Yisrael by the year 2000. (He today. But I understand why Yoram Ettinger believes that. The
was off by 5 million Jews).
dream of Zionism has withstood the ultimate test: of time.
• In the 1940s, Professor Roberto Bacchi, founder of the
Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, warned that Jews would
O : 1 1 Is a Jewish Israel contingent on Jewish
r ,;
eventually become a minority under the British Partition
— withdrawal from the West Bank?
Plan. He pressured Israel's David Ben-Gurion to delay decla-
I — 0
ration of independence and projected that, in the best case,
Z Do the Jewish and Arab fertility rates in
Eretz Israel would be home to 2.3 million Jews, a 34 percent
o 4 2 the Middle East surprise you?
minority. (He was wrong by 3 million Jews).


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