Magazine article The American Conservative

Demography Is Destiny

Magazine article The American Conservative

Demography Is Destiny

Article excerpt

Birth rates in the Holy Land may force a two-state solution.

FROM TIME TO TIME, I visit an Israeli blog where much of the discussion has been focused on "demographic problems"-code words for the rising concern among Israelis that if rates of growth of Jewish and Arab populations in the Holy Land continue at their current levels, the Jewish state will cease to be Jewish.

One blogger, whose screen-name is "Logic," recently came up with an original idea: the solution lies in converting Israel's Muslims to Judaism and encouraging intermarriage between Jews and Arabs, leading to assimilation of the Arabs into the majority Jewish population. "In the current situation in which Jews dominate the state's culture, intermarriage would help bring to the world a new generation of kids with Jewish instead of Arab identity," Logic explained.

That even intelligent Israeli Jews like Logic fly into fantasyland when they ponder ways to maintain their eroding majority suggests that an Iranian nuclear bomb is not the main threat to Israel's existence. Instead, it is the demographic bomb that is causing Israelis sleepless nights. After all, Israel's own nuclear capability would probably succeed in deterring Iran. It is less likely that Israel's Jews would be able to defeat the Muslims in the battle of the birth rates. In that biological struggle, Palestinian Muslims, with their average birth rates ranging from 7 children per woman in the Gaza Strip to 5.4 in the West Bank to 4.7 in Israel, seem to be besting Israeli Jews, whose average birth rate is 2.6. Is it surprising that the most popular name given to baby boys in the Jewish state these days is Muhammad?

In fact, in the area stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River -which includes the state of Israel within the 1967 "green Une," the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip-non-Jews are edging towards parity with the Jewish population of about 5.5 million. If one adds to the 4.5 million Palestinian Arabs (1.4 million in Israel proper, 1.7 million in the West Bank, 1.1 million in Gaza, and 300,000 in East Jerusalem) the more than 300,000 Israeli citizens who are classified by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics as "others" (mostly Christians who have immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union, as well as more than 600,000 foreigners residing in the Jewish state) there are probably close to 11 million people living in the Holy Land, divided almost equally between Jews and non-Jews. And even if one excluded the "others" and foreign workers, the point of parity between Jews and Arabs in Eretz Israel/Palestine could arrive before 2010, according to Sergio Delia Pergola, a Hebrew University demographer.

From the perspective of the secular Zionist leadership that still dominates Israel and would like to preserve a democratic Jewish ethos, the reality on the ground is already worse than the numbers indicate. In Galilee, Arabs constitute at least 50 percent of the population, and as a result of illegal migration of Arabs from the occupied territories to Galilee, combined with migration of Jews from the area, the Arabs may have only a slim demographic edge. At the same time, in the Negev Desert, Beduines compose 25 percent of the population, and in the area around Beer Sheba, where 250,000 Jews live, Beduines constitute about 40 percent of the population and are expected to become a majority of 350,000 there before the year 2020. Arnon Soffer, one of Israel's leading demographers, contends that the combination of large population growth, illegal settlements, and rising crime rates "is going to be a catastrophe" and predicts "an intifadah of major proportions, beyond imagining" among the Negev's Beduines.

But it is in Jerusalem that the nation's demographic dilemmas are being exposed in a dramatic way. At a recent conference in the city, attended by the Jewish mayor, Uri Lupolianski, demographers predicted that by 2040, Jerusalem will have an Arab majority and the city will probably be led by an Arab mayor. …

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