Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper has published new demographic statistics today that show the country’s Jewish birthrate has risen sharply over the past decade, while that of (predominantly Arab) Christians and Muslims has fallen. The trend has been building for the past several years. In 2006, for example, Israel’s left-leaning Ha’aretz reported that Jewish birthrates in Jerusalem had caught up to Arab birthrates for the first time.
The new demographic data undermine the core argument of the Israeli left–repeated by radical left-wing American groups such as J Street–that Israel must urgently offer deep concessions to the Palestinians, or else Arabs will soon overwhelm Jews in the land claimed by both. At that point, as J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami puts it: “Israel will no longer be either Jewish (by virtue of the demographic trends) or democratic.”
That old, faulty demographic conventional wisdom helps form the basis for the left’s self-reassuring claim that by pressuring Israel (and only Israel), they are actually doing what is in Israel’s best interest. The left-wing ThinkProgress blog, for example, tried today to deflect charges of antisemitism reported by Ben Smith yesterday in Politico by casting its harsh anti-Israel rhetoric as motivated by concern for “Israel’s long term security.”
Yet it has been apparent for several years that Palestinian demographic data have been exaggerated, likely for political reasons. In 2006, the conservative Israeli journal Azure described the “voodoo demographics” practiced by the Palestinian Authority. Since then, other researchers have continued to criticize emerging flaws in Palestinian demographic projections, as well as unrealized fears of an “impending Jewish minority” in Israel.
Israel’s Gaza disengagement of 2005 ought to have ended the abuse of demographics to pressure Israel into risky concessions, since roughly 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs were now definitively outside of Israeli control. Yet the myth of the “demographic trends” pushed by Ben-Ami and others has persisted–along with archaic colonial stereotypes of “indigenous” Arab fertility, revived (ironically) by the left for anti-Israel purposes.
The rising Jewish birthrate in Israel is not solely a phenomenon among religious Jews, who tend to have large families. It is occurring even among secular Jewish families. Though the roots of this demographic revival probably go back several decades, there seems–at least anecdotally–to have been a turning point in the last few years. That turning point was the completion of Israel’s security barrier in and along the West Bank.
I visited Israel several times during the second intifada, and there was a pronounced difference in mood between the years before the barrier was completed and the years after. The barrier–derided as an “apartheid wall” by anti-Israel activists–reduced the number of Palestinian “suicide” bombings to near zero. Social life returned to something close to what it had been before 2000, and it seemed there were babies everywhere.
The security barrier reassured Israelis about their country’s future, both by stopping terror and creating a “last resort” boundary if negotiations failed. While Israel still faces many challenges, the fear that Palestinians are winning “in the bedroom,” so to speak, should not impose a sense of urgency. If anything, it is the Palestinians, who have failed to build an economy independent of (dwindling) foreign aid, who are running out of time.