Understandably a government agency shies away from lots of analysis, but recently, prior to President Obama’s trip to Israel, Aaron David Miller interviewed respected Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola and asked him to identify the ten most salient current facts about Israel’s demographic reality and what they mean for Israel’s future as a Jewish state:
1. More than 12 million people currently live in the territory between the Mediterranean shores and the Jordan River, what is known today as Israel and the Palestinian territories. Of these, about 8 million are legal residents of Israel -- a total that includes those who live within its internationally recognized boundaries, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Jewish population in the West Bank. About 1.6 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, and about 2.3 million live in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem. Another 300,000 documented or undocumented foreign workers and refugees also live here, mostly from African countries.
2. Of Israel's legal population of about 8 million, 6 million are Jews, over 300,000 are non-Jewish relatives of Jews who immigrated in the framework of Israel's Law of Return, and 1.7 million are Arabs -- mostly Muslims, with Christian and Druze minorities. Of the Muslim population, about 300,000 live in East Jerusalem. Of Israel's population of 6 million Jews, about 350,000 live in the West Bank.
3. Jews constitute 49.8 percent of the total population that lives between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River -- 52 percent, if one includes non-Jewish relatives. If one excludes foreign workers and the Gaza population, Jews represent 62 percent of the total; excluding Palestinians in the West Bank, their share rises to about 79 percent; excluding the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, the Jewish share of total population would be 83 percent.
4. The rate of population growth in the state of Israel is higher than the world's average, estimated at 1.2 percent per year. Among Jews in Israel, it is 1.8 percent -- a figure that includes both immigration and birth rates. Among Arabs in Israel, it is 2.2 percent. In the West Bank and Gaza, the annual population growth is 2.7 percent, including a slightly negative migration balance.
5. Israel has the highest fertility rate of any developed country in the world -- each woman bears over 3 children on average. Over the last 15 years, Jewish fertility has been slowly increasing -- not just among observant Jews, but also in the highly secular city of Tel Aviv. Fertility among Jewish residents in the West Bank is above 5 children. Among Israel's Muslims, fertility has been stable or slowly declining, and currently stands at 3.5 children.
6. Immigration to Israel continues, though not at the same pace of the major immigration waves of the past. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, 16,557 people immigrated to Israel in 2012 -- down from 60,201 in 2000. The fact is, most Jews today live in more developed countries where the propensity for emigration is low.
7. The absolute number of emigrants from Israel has been quite steady over the last 65 years, even as the population has increased tenfold. The annual frequency of emigration from Israel -- roughly 2 emigrants per 1000 residents -- is lower than average emigration from OECD countries.
8. Both Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land are growing more religious. According to Dellapergola's surveys, 21 percent of Jews said they are now more religious than they were earlier in life, while 14 percent said they are less religious. Among Muslims, 41 percent said they are more religious, while only 4 percent said they are less religious.
Israelis are also largely satisfied with life and optimistic about the future -- and there is no discernible divide between its Jewish and Arab populations on this point. Eighty-eight percent of Israelis declare they are satisfied -- 89 percent of Jews and 87 percent of Arabs. Among both Jews and Arabs, the more religious are happier than the less religious.
9. The proportion of Israeli haredim, the most religious and self-segregated component of society, is growing. Today, the haredim constitute slightly above 10 percent of the total Jewish population -- however, they also constitute over 20 percent of Jews under 20 years old. In 2030, the proportion of haredim might surpass 20 percent of Israel's total Jewish population, and over one-third of those under 20.
10. The share of Jews among the total population in Israel and Palestine is slowly decreasing. This dynamic is largely being driven by population growth in the West Bank and Gaza: Within Israel proper, the current 79 percent share of Jews is expected to diminish by just a few percentage points by 2030. But if one also includes the West Bank and Gaza, the current roughly 50-50 division will change to a 56 percent Palestinian majority in 2030. Withdrawing from the Palestinian territories, then, has a dramatic effect on this demographic balance. Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, for instance, postponed the emergence of a Palestinian majority in Israel-ruled territory by 30 years.