The Birthrate Of Jews And Arabs Within Israel

Oct 1st, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

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Senior columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Ari Shavit, has written that the 20th century was “the most dramatic century in the dramatic history of the Jews.  In its first half, we lost a third of our people.  But the second half of the century was miraculous.  In North America, we created the perfect diaspora, while in the land of Israel we established modern Jewish sovereignty.  The Jews of the 21st century have today what their great-grandparents could only dream of: equality, freedom, prosperity, dignity.  The persecuted people are now emancipated.  The pitiful people are now proud and independent . . . [Israel] is the demography of hope: an almost extinguished people renewing itself.”

Shavit also documents the staggering success of the Zionist movement in Israel:  “In 1897, approximately 50,000 Jews lived here.  Now the Jewish population exceeds six million . . . In 1897, Jews living in Palestine represented only 0.4 percent of world Jewry.  In 1950 we accounted for 10.6 percent.  In 1980, 25.6 percent.  Now we make up almost 45 percent.  The historic project that aimed to congregate most of the world’s Jews in the Promised Land has had mind-boggling success.  Today, the Jewish community in Israel is one of the two largest in the world.  Given current trends, by 2025 the majority of the world’s Jews will be Israelis.”

How do we explain this—Jews once again in their Promised Land?  It was certainly the vision of Theodore Herzl and the Zionist movement to transfer people from one continent where they were being persecuted, almost extinguished, to their ancient homeland.  And it was their goal to reestablish the state of Israel with its revived language of Hebrew—all in the land of their forefathers. There is a supernatural explanation for the miracle called Israel:  It is God fulfilling His promises first detailed in the Abrahamic covenant and reiterated continuously throughout both the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament.  The birth of the modern nation-state of Israel is not only an event of history; it is the fulfillment of prophecy.

Ezekiel 36:16-38 is one the most important passages in Scripture envisaging the restoration of the Jewish people to their land.  As this event is accomplished, Ezekiel exclaimed, the nations will be silent in their amazement of what God has done (vv. 33-36).  I believe quite strongly that in the 21st century we are witnessing that restoration.  But the other dimension of Ezekiel’s prophetic claim is the spiritual restoration of the Jews.  That is detailed in Ezekiel 36:22-32 and 37:15-28.   God will put His Spirit in them; they will obey Him; and they will walk with Him forever.  The fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises to Abraham (land, seed and blessing), to David (an eternal throne, kingdom and dynasty) and the New Covenant of spiritual renewal are foretold in 37:24-28.  The Jewish people will be united as one people, secure in the land God promised them, renewed spiritually and with their Davidic King ruling in their midst.  We await that fulfillment.

But, until that fulfillment, the demography of Israel remains an important concern.  Indeed, demography in the Holy Land “has geographical as well as economic consequences.  Of Israel’s population of 9.5 million, Israeli Arabs, mostly Muslim, make up about 21% of the total, while Jews account for roughly 74%.  But include people in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, and the Jewish majority falls to barley half.”  As The Economist argues, Israel “cannot have at the same time a strong Jewish majority, all the land it conquered in 1967 and full democracy that does not discriminate against Arabs.”  In fact, Yasser Arafat used to contend that “the womb of the Arab woman” was his “strongest weapon.”  Demographic projections used to suggest that Arabs living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea would eventually outnumber Jews.  Many political leaders in Israel lamented that the birth rate of Israeli Arabs would imperil Israel’s Jewish character.  The truth was that “Arab women were having almost twice as many babies on average as Jewish women.”

This demographic fear within Israel has diminished somewhat due to an extraordinary change in birth rates.  The Economist offers the following statistical analysis demonstrating that in the past few decades, this gap has disappeared.  The birth rate of Israeli Arabs has fallen and the birthrate of Israeli Jews has risen:

  • In 1960 the fertility rate of Israeli Arabs stood at 9.3.  In the next 35 years it dropped by almost half to 4.7, before sliding to 3.0 today.  The birth rate of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank has also declined, from 4.6 in 2003 to 3.8 in 2019.
  • Globally Muslims have the highest fertility rate of any religious group, according to the Pew Research Center.  “Yet even this rate has fallen sharply, from 4.3 in 1995 to 2.9 in 2015.  Seven Arab countries were among the 12 recording the world’s biggest drops in fertility between the late 1970s and mid-2000s.  In Iran, whose religious leaders have long called on women to have more babies, the birth rate has fallen from 7.0 in 1984 to 1.7” today.
  • The birth rate among Jewish people within Israel is astonishing:  Between 1960 and 1990, the fertility rate among Jewish Israelis declined from 3.4 to 2.6, but today that rate is 3.1.  How do we explain this remarkable change in fertility rates?  The ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi Jews) have a fertility rate of 6.6, more than double the national average in Israel.  “Though Haredim are just 13% of the population, their offspring make up 19% of Israeli children under the age of 14, and 24% of those under the age of four.  Israel’s statistical agency reckons that under present trends half of Israeli children will be Haredi by 2065.”  But this fertility rate among the Haredim is a challenge for Israel because most ultra-Orthodox Jews send the boys to study Torah in religious schools rather than to schools that prepare Israelis for jobs in the high-tech economy of Israel.  Less than half of Haredi boys enter the Israeli workforce.  In addition, many are financially supported by the Israeli state through its complicated welfare program.  Haredi families desire to have large families “to make up for the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust;” many Haredim also believe they are serving God by “multiplying.”  Also, Haredi women marry and have children at a younger age than secular Jews.  The Jewish state also encourages fertility among its citizens by bankrolling various fertility treatments.  “It subsidizes in-vitro fertilization to the tune of $150 million a year.  Tiny Israel has about the same number of frozen embryos as America.”  Finally, in Israel the traditional family structure is still strong.  In one survey 83% of secular Jewish mothers aged 25-39 declared that they were supported by the child’s grandparents.

The birthrates of Jews and Arabs in the state of Israel are thus converging.  Arafat’s “secret weapon” of the Arab birthrate eventually overcoming the Jewish birth rate is no longer a viable reality.  Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and Jewish families are having children at a growing rate, while Arab families are not.  The birth rates are almost merging.  Jews continue to return to Israel from all parts of the world.  Jewish mothers are having more Jewish babies.  God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:16-38 is being fulfilled!

See Ari Shavit, “The Real News From Israel” in the Wall Street Journal (30 November-1 December 2013) and My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2013), 387; James P. Eckman, A Covenant People, pp. 327-332; and The Economist (20 August 2022), p. 42.

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