Israel, 2020 and the demographic demon

Bill Clinton previously touted “It’s the economy stupid!”
Here in Israel  we beg to differ: It’s the demographics!

By Debbie Meltzer. 

Four futures for Israel, Debbie Meltzer

Four futures for Israel

Don’t underestimate the power of demographics – It’s one of the most potent tools in the futurist’s skill-set. 

It’s the science of crowds with eerily accurate prediction rates. So much of history is dictated by demographic imbalances, yet it often seems too tedious to deal with.

In Israel demographics is a two headed monster.

Internally and externally it is steadfastly affecting our very existence; leaving the economy, national security or even the nascent housing bubble trailing behind.

Here’s a quick drill down into some of the forecasts and trends igniting the national agenda and why parents of young kids like I are fed up and lashing out at national taboos.

In Israel, by the end of this year almost 21% of the population will be Arab, 9% – ultra-religious orthodox Jews (Haredim), 65% – secular to mildly religious Jews and approximately 5% will feature other.

What could slightly alter these figures in the future are population trends such as the stabilization of Arab births since 1995, the shift amongst Soviet newcomers – from one birth per woman to a typical Israeli rate of two to three, and a sustained Jewish Orthodox birth rate.

Meanwhile, today, over 50% of children attending grade one are either Arab, ultra-religious or other. By the time they complete year 12, over 50% of them will not be strapping up army boots, walking the halls of Academia, or taking a ride to work….most of them will barely know math, or English or even possess online skills.

Most of them will be poverty stricken.

I’d like to say nah! This daunting outlook has a chance in hell of happening. After all, so often statistics are thrown in our faces to bolster weak arguments.

But just a few days ago Israel’s Knesset proceeded full throttle to cement this trend. A majority vote supported a controversial bill that bypassed a High Court decision, granting yeshiva students stipends worth NIS120 million in funds.

Simply put; the government padded the poverty line with fresh recruits who will probably be lining up for bare minimal hand-outs for years to come. 

“The yeshiva students’ income allowances should be used to teach the sector workforce skills,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Hiddush, an organization advocating freedom of religion in Israel. The Government paid lip service to the suggestion. It instructed a committee to consider ways how yeshiva students can become a part of the workforce while receiving government funding.

The numbers appear more striking when considering the fertility rates: For instance; excluding international migration, 30% of Israel’s natural population increase to date is a product of the Arab sector.

Israel’s Arab population is expected to reach 23% in 2020 and 27% in 2050, leading to the emergence of a bi-national state. As for the next generation; under 15 year old Arab children’s population is likely to reach 30% by 2020. Considering today’s trends, similar figures are predicted for the under 15 orthodox religious children.

2020…. such a striking number….that’s just about the time when my son will be leaving the army. No doubthe will be expected to study, work, go to reserves 30 days a year and pay taxes to support more controversial programs, more payouts and more pensions.

Only by then, the tireless train fuelled by his fellow soldiers, students, donors and families is likely to lose steam and run out of puff. 

Alright, alright… so the Jewish Orthodox children of today will join the work force of tomorrow (with little Math, English or IT skills), East Jerusalem will be annexed by the West Bank and some unforeseen tragedy will drive hoards of Diaspora Jews to the Holy land’s shores (France, the UK, Africa…? Click on Google maps and hedge your bets). Oh and lets not forget – Israel is not immune to emigration of its own. The number of expatriates living abroad is estimated at one million. Maybe their return will re-address the balance?


Surely the creation of a Palestinian state will save the day? Or will the post-split era signify something else?

Let’s face it; a future Palestinian state wedged between the Green Line and Gaza Strip will face huge population growth. For years Palestinian society has been brainwashed into having many children as a political and national duty (did they consider the economic tension and depleting water resources when boasting of doubling the strip’s population in 20 years?).

Some observers, like General Giora Eiland, doubt the region has enough land and resources to sustain two viable sovereign states. 

“In few places in the world do conditions demand that two peoples develop a symbiotic relationship; in no other place are the chances more remote.

In 1949, David Ben-Gurion considered demography a top priority to salvage the state. He thought he transferred to his successors a foundation for a long-term robust Jewish majority, but even he could not foresee such extreme demographic changes. 

Perhaps this is why Lieberman’s (Israel’s Foreign Minister) idea of a land swap between Israel and the future Palestinian state has received an unexpected endorsement from Israel’s leading demographer Sergio DellaPergola. “Critics are wrong”, he says, “to reject this idea just because of Lieberman’s general political orientation. Such a land swap may be necessary for Israel’s political and demographic stability.

As Henry Kissinger noted back in the 1970s; Israeli foreign policy often has more to do with Israeli internal affairs than with Israel’s national interest, as normally conceived (Kissinger was one of the brains behind the book ” 2030: Alternative futures for the Jewish people”,  by The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute).

Today I’d go as far as to say; it’s the demographic demon that is shaping us internally and externally, more than any of us could conceive!