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On Israel’s demographic time bomb

by Shmuel Rosner

December 15, 2011 | 4:00 am

I’m sitting in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel as I read about “Israel’s other demographic time bomb”. Men in black all around me, enemy forces, according to Paul Pillar:

Israel has achieved a commanding position in confronting any perceived dangers from outside its borders, including overwhelming conventional military superiority over its neighbors and an arsenal of nuclear weapons that is vastly greater than any other state in the region could dream of acquiring. Its greatest dangers come from within. 

Pillar has the numbers to prove his point:

Less well known are some demographic trends within different segments of Israel’s Jewish population. A recent report compiled by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics makes some projections looking out nearly fifty years, to 2059. The report separates out for the first time in any such official public reckoning the growth of the ultra-Orthodox population, which has a significantly higher birth rate than other Israeli Jews. The ultra-Orthodox currently make up about ten percent of Israeli society but by 2059 are projected to constitute over thirty percent.

And he’s worried about the possible implications of such numbers. He has good reasons to be worried. So why am I not worried, not to the extent that Pillar is worried? For three reasons:

1.

I don’t really believe in demographic projections. Demographers can barely agree on the present - and projecting future trends is something on which their record isn’t really great. In other words: the assumption that the ultra Orthodox will have the same number of children that they have now, and that they will be able to retain all these children in the Ultra Orthodox camp is far from trivial. If these assumptions fall, prediction falls short of a realistic description of the future Israel. 

2.
Many ultra Orthodox leaders would readily admit that the current state of affairs is unsustainable. Haredi society is going to change, it has to change. When it does, the “danger from within” might not be as dangerous.

3.
Israel`s majority is not as passive and as stupid as some people would like you to believe. It isn`t going to let the country become a “theocracy” (read all about it here). There will be a tipping point - we might be reaching it now - when the larger society says enough is enough.

So - maybe I am a little worried. But not much.

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