The Happy Arab News Service

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The True Convergence

Last updated: November 27, 2009

April 15, 2009

Lieberman's idea of a land swap between Israel and the future Palestinian state has received an unexpected endorsement from Israel's leading demographer Sergio DellaPergola. Critics are wrong, he says, to reject this idea just because of Lieberman's general political orientation. Such a land swap may be necessary for Israel's political and demographic stability.

Most Israelis know that Israel must withdraw from the West Bank if it is to remain both a Jewish and a democratic state. But even if Israel does so, the underlying demographic dynamic will continue to yield a constant erosion of Israel’s Jewish majority.

In 2008, Arabs comprised 21% of the inhabitants of Israel (including East Jerusalem but not West Bank Palestinians). Because of higher Arab fertility rates, however, 25% of all births in Israel are to Arab families. Moreover, because of a much younger age composition, Arabs account for only 10% of all deaths in Israel. Thus, in 2008, excluding international migration, 30% of Israel’s natural population increase was in the Arab sector.

The present trend generates a steady growth of the Arab share of Israel’s population. Israel’s Arab population is expected to reach 23% in 2020 and 27% in 2050, while the share of Arabs among children younger than 15 will likely be 30% by 2020.

These numbers point toward a bi-national state, not to the Jewish state that most Israelis prefer. With two small adjustments to the Green Line, however, this demographic outlook can be radically transformed.

The Triangle region has an Arab population of some 250,000; another 250,000 Arabs reside in East Jerusalem. Together these two areas cover about 3% of Israel’s territory but are home to more than a third of Israel’s 1.4 million Arabs. By redrawing the frontier between Israel and the West Bank to place the Triangle and East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian control, the Jewish proportion of the Israeli population would increase from the current 79% to 87%.

Under this scenario, the Jewish share of the population would remain well above 80% into the 2030s and beyond. Concern about Israel’s demographic composition would be postponed to a distant future, by which time the respective growth rates of the Jewish and Arab populations may well have converged.

Source: Avigdor Lieberman’s Bright Idea

SDP is known as a demographic centrist. Recently Arnon Soffer who was known as an alarmist moved to the center encouraged by rapid decline in Arab fertility while Yoram Ettinger and others have created a very aggressive demographic right that claims for existence of a Jewish demographic superiority in Israel and the West Bank. Their work seems to have been endorsed by Nicholas Eberstadt who is a big name among the world's leading demographers.

Now what's interesting about SDP is this. First of all to lose 3% of Israel's territory for getting 50 years of peace of mind is certainly worth it. And SDP is right to point out that Lieberman is not unique and not the first. This idea surfaced before Lieberman and has supporters on both sides of the political spectrum. However, SDP leaves the crucial point largely unanswered since his working assumption should be that Israeli Arabs will never voluntarily agree to join their brothers in the West Bank. It's pointless to consider such an idea, if one is not ready for unilateral decisions. This idea is a much better candidate for Olmert's convergence plan than the original unilateral convergence has ever been.

Two, SDP's numbers look pretty modest - Arab population is expected to reach 27% by 2050. This is a far cry from the Jewish majority to be threatened in a critical way. However, life threatening instability may create one if internal unrest pushes too many Israelis into emigrating.

Three, SDP is talking about convergence in the future. However, even though this is no reason for getting complacent, data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics does not show so much of convergence. Convergence may be happening in Lebanon where Muslim birth rates are catching up with the already anemic Christian birth rates. For some reason in Israel Jewish and Arab birth rates are moving in opposite directions, the Jewish one is edging up while the Arab fertility is very much collapsing. And if what's happening between the Jews and Christians/Druze is any indication of the shape of things to come, then what's happening is not convergence.

Jews and Arabs - demographic divergence

Source: Central Bureau of Statistics

The data for the Druze and Christian Arab sectors suggests that these have already dropped out of the demographic race. This may be less evident from crude birth rates. However, the Druze sector should be much younger than the Jewish sector due to its intense recent demographic history and so parity in crude birth rates can be only achieved through disparity in fertility rates. This means that young Jewish women should be expected on average to have more children these days than their Druze counterparts and, anyway, the current parity in crude birth rates should be temporary given the overall trends of the last 10 years.

Druze and Christians - the disappearing minorities

One thing that begs attention is two massive blows Arab demographics suffered between 2001-2002 and 2003-2005. For the first one I have no explanation. Maybe it's the economic crisis triggered by the second Intifadah. The second one should be probably termed Bibi's effect and has something to do with his cuts in social spending, child subsidies in particular. In fact, between 2002-2003 Druze and Christians can be seen recovering from the first blow, however Bibi's reforms seem to have inflicted on all three Arab sectors a blow they could no longer recover from.

The Bibi Effect

It should also be mentioned that the downward trend started several years before Bibi in the Druze and Christian sectors and spread to the Muslim Arab sector later. So child subsidies should be only a contributing factor. Bibi's cuts have certainly accelerated the process, but the process was there before Bibi. The pattern of Christians and Druze leading a demographic transition and followed by Muslim Arabs is reminiscent of Lebanon. Lebanon may be irrelevant for understanding Jewish vs Arab birth rates dynamics, but it seems to be very relevant for understanding the dynamics within the Arab sector itself. The chart seems to suggest that in the future the Druze and Christians will be completely sidelined by Jews and Muslim Arabs. In this sense diversity will suffer (my heart goes out to all those folks whose lives are going around celebrating differences and diversities).

In general the decline of Arab fertility in Israel was surprisingly sharp. This seems to be in line with the regionwide trends of the last decades (the Middle Eastern demographics now increasingly looks like this). Even more impressive is how disconnected and disintegrated from the rest of the region Israeli Jews are in demographic terms. It is as if the Jewish crude birth rate lives a life of its own. The two blows Israeli Arab birth rates suffered between 2001-2005 seem to have been a local event that happened inside the Arab sector alone. Israeli Jews are probably the only group in the region that's experiencing a demographic renaissance and their demographic indicators compared to their neighbors look anything but anemic these days.

Now where it all takes us? The experience shows that it's usually very easy to knock down TFRs in developing nations, even in Muslim ones, and these rarely stop before reaching sub replacement zone (Egypt is being one such exception due to its unfinished demographic transition). TFRs for sure have almost never been seen going back up. In demographic terms the last three decades were marked by a massive slide into sub replacement fertility in the third world with the experts having been caught completely off guard when this process invaded the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. In particular the absence of many factors we usually associate with demographic transition is baffling many.

When such factors can be positively identified, women's emancipation seems to be the ultimate killer of all Arab and Muslim demographics whatsoever. Even religion is not that important. From the moment polygamy stops and women can work and study demographic booms stop. In this sense there are no Muslim/Arab demographics as such. By all accounts there are far more women wearing headscarves on the streets of Algeria today than in any other period of its post colonial history. However women now outnumber men in university enrollments and the TFR is accordingly already below 1.9 (The replacement level is generally 2.1. It can be 2.2 and 2.3 for some countries in the region).

In terms of demographic policies this dictates a very obvious course of action to take. The state should ensure that in all sectors including Arab ones young girls receive their share of education. The authorities should get involved and see to it that girls are not snatched from schools and married at the age of 15. A few things things should be mentioned in this regard. First, Arab societies are liable to fail to adapt to increased women's participation in society without experiencing an acute social and family crisis. It's a sure bet that the male gender in these societies will be lagging behind developments given how much male dominated the traditional Arab/Muslim culture is. Two, in empowering Arab women Israel may find unexpected allies among some groups who are currently working hard to undermine its Jewish orientation from within as such groups tend to be leftist and feminist. Three, such policies may have little effect on the demographic surge in the ultra orthodox sector where women are often encouraged to work while their husbands immerse themselves in studying Jewish sciences. Some ultra orthodox women are actually better educated in a conventional sense of the word than their husbands.

In terms of child subsidies a compromise should be sought with the ultra orthodox sector. In fact it's more about deepening the current compromise between the ultras and Lieberman. The current subsidies should be compressed. The government should take subsidies paid to a family with eight children and compress them into subsidies for the second, third and maybe fourth children and the subsidies should stop after this. The ultras should use their charities and non governmental funds to subsidize their families with more children. In short, the state should establish a correct division of labor between itself and the ultras charities. The ultras are big on charities anyway and so the compromise should be along the lines that the state takes care of the first four children, while the charities take care of the rest. Such approach would stop discrimination against the secular sector on one hand and will remove stimulus for Arabs to make more children on the other.

In fact, similar policies should be adopted by all nations, rich and poor. They can be extended by punitive measures against people who fail to make children or enough children by say discriminating against them in pension funds and by delisting from social payrolls those who keep procreating exceeding their quota in the manner of China's one child policy. Demographic policies should aim at stabilizing TFRs at between 2-3 children. The idea is to create stable demographics that on one hand would act against demographic explosions like one that has wrecked the Arab world, and on the other prevent demographic implosions the style of that in Europe that will soon send welfare states in quite a few countries crashing.

When it comes to the demographic future of Israel, the question is really not if the Arab birth rates continue declining, they will, but whether the Jewish demographics continue going strong. Without a detailed breakdown of demographic statistics per sector it's difficult to make predictions about the future. In particular the ultra orthodox demographics are very important for the Jewish sector while in the Arab sector Bedouins should play a disproportionate role. However, between these two demographic powerhouses, Bedouins should be much more vulnerable to the effects of modernization and deliberate government policies, unlike Jewish fundamentalists who are making children like mad just because God commanded them to prove Malthus wrong.

Anyway, the demographic outlook for Israeli Jews may be indeed brightening. In fact, it may be even brighter than SDP thinks. Demographics are a fluid and unpredictable business. Within the next 50 years the roles may be even reversed with the Jews surging at the Arabs expense. Yet, there exists no reason to get complacent. No chances should be taken in this regard. If an opportunity to completely solve the demographic problem for the next 50 years exists, and in this region even 20 years are eternity, then it should be taken advantage of without asking for anybody's opinion. This is a true convergence.


Jews and others in the slang of CBS means Jews and all those people, mainly FSU immigrants, who came to Israel because they are married to a Jew or because they are Jewish by patrilineal descent. The correct word for this group of people is of course not "Jews and others", but Israelis.

May 19, 2009

The Demographic History of Israel

Total Fertility Rates (1970-2007)

Source: Central Bureau of Statistics

The graph is attached to provide a historic perspective on the demographic situation of Israel. The graph does not really need explanations and, so, I will make only a few comments on its most prominent features.

The first thing that calls attention in the graph is the relative stability of Jewish fertility rate over many years. I believe the stability is misleading and conceals a very turbulent demographic history. Probably a separate graph is required to chart separately Ashkenazi, Sepharadi and ultra orthodox fertilities to show the continuously shifting underlying reality behind this stability.

Christian Arab fertility can be seen lingering for a quite a while under the Jewish rate until it finally tunnels South searching for Europe. It should be mentioned however that all groups in the graph are still well above Western averages. The Holy Land is not populated by demographic pushovers.

Now the truly interesting dynamics can be seen in the Druze and Muslim Arab sectors and this is where the mystery starts. By 1980 fertility rates of the two converged, but shortly after 1985 the Muslim Arab rate has stabilized and remained largely unchanged all the way until 2000. I was not digging professional literature for explanations, but from those bits I encountered on the Internet there is no consensus as to why this happened. What also seems to be seen clearly in the graph is the effect of 1997 when child subsidies were both increased and extended to all sectors including Muslim Arabs and Jewish ultra orthodox. There was a certain uptick in the Muslim Arab fertility immediately after 1997, but it was not particularly dramatic and quickly ran out of steam.

Meanwhile, demographic transition continued in the Druze sector uninterrupted and a few years ago the parity was achieved with the Jewish sector in fertility rates. The fertility rate seems poised to converge with the Christian Arab sector within the next few years digging a hole for the birth rate to collapse into in the near future.

To the best of my knowledge, no consensus exists either as to why the Muslim Arab fertility resumed declining around 2000. The drastic overhaul of child subsidies and other social payments under Netanyahu has certainly contributed to this, but the decline was plainly present a few years before Netanyahu's reforms went into effect. There is a certain difference between the Druze and Muslim Arabs - the former serve in the army and in general are better integrated into Israeli society. This may explain the divergence between the two sectors that happened after 1985. In this sense the later drop in the Muslim Arab fertility can be also seen as the nature resuming its course.

Another factor to consider is this. During the Oslo process the government has significantly increased funds for education in the Arab sector effectively ending what was frequently claimed to be an outright discrimination. The state was with one hand hampering demographic transition in the Muslim Arab sector through mismanagement of child subsidies and other welfare, but with the other hand it may have been preparing the ground for the transition's next stage. In fact, in my view the impact of child subsidies is overrated. While without doubt a factor, child subsidies should be less crucial than say education and integration.

The CBS per district tables generally indicate that over during the last ten years Jewish demographic indicators across Israel largely remained stable or were slightly edging up amidst steadily declining Arab fertility. In Jerusalem the demographic onslaught of the ultras has already created parity in fertility rates and, given the trend of the recent years, the demographic advantage in the city and the area around may well soon shift to the Jewish sector. In this sense Jerusalem stands apart from the rest of the country. Another exception is the South, where the disparity between Jewish and Muslim Arab fertilities is still tremendous. In both cases two minorities unrepresented on the graph should be held accountable for these anomalies - the Jewish ultra orthodox and Bedouins.

Those who have patience can go to and dig the Central Statistics Bureau CBS site for more data on these two. However, the per district tables should give one a pretty good idea of the demographic situation of the Bedouin sector, given that Muslim Arabs in the South should be predominantly Bedouins. In 2007 the Muslim Arab TFR in the South was running at 7.13, which is pretty high even for Africa. It was 7.25 in 2006. To compare, the TFR was about 10 in 2000. The rate of decline may be slowing down. The TFR lost 7.3% between 2003 and 2004, 4.6% between 2005 and 2006 and only 1.6% between 2006 and 2007. For comparison the Jewish TFR in the South has remained virtually unchanged throughout that period at 2.6-2.5, very high for any developed nation but nothing compared to the Arab neighbors.

There is less information readily available on the ultra orthodox but some data released by the CBS in 2008 suggests that fertility and birth rates in the ultra orthodox sector have also sharply declined in the last few years. Nevertheless, even when compared to the Bedouins, the ultras still remain the ultimate demographic supermachine.

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent

The total fertility rate in the country's ultra-Orthodox community has dropped sharply in the past several years, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

The fertility rate in the Haredi community of Beitar Illit dropped from 8.9 children per woman in 2001 to 7.7 children in 2006, a decrease of 13.5 percent. In Modi'in Illit, another ultra-Orthodox community, the total fertility rate fell from 9 to 8 in the same period.

Even after the drop, these communities still have the highest fertility rates in Israel.

Source: Haaretz

November 27, 2009

The Moslem Population in Israel

Thanks Lirun for calling my attention to this article in Haaretz. It's based on a report released by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The Hebrew version of the report is here. For some reason the English version does not load itself. Some inaccuracies in the article. The article says:

According to the bureau's report, the Muslim community's growth rate dropped one percent in 2009 to 2.8 percent, down from 3.8 percent in 2008. However, the Muslim growth rate is still the highest among all groups in Israel, with the Druze population growing at 1.8 percent a year, Christian-Arabs at 1.3 percent and Jews at 1.6 percent a year.

The report is actually comparing 2008 and 2000.

Another one:

There are more than 225,000 Muslim families in the country, while in the south each family has an average of 6.9 children, and in the north 3.9 children per family.

This figure is also the highest in the country, while Jews have an average of Jews average 2.9 children per woman, Druse 2.5, Christians 2.1.

The report is actually comparing TFRs (total fertility rates) which can be roughly defined as a number of children young women entering childbearing age would have on average if the current fertility patterns remain unchanged. It's a bit fictional indicator that can have little resemblance to the average family size. It's used widely because, unlike crude birth rates and average family size, it's not influenced by population age structure and past demographic trends and so reflects the current state of fertility better than other demographic data. Never mind that the report does not say that Muslim families in the north have 3.9 children per family, but that the TFR for Muslim women in the area is now estimated at 3.0, the lowest Muslim TFR in Israel.

According to the CBS report, the Muslim TFR dropped from 4.7 to 3.8 between 2000 and 2008 compared to the Jewish TFR of 2.9 in 2008 (the Jewish TFR was actually edging up between 2000 and 2008), 2.5 for Druze and 2.1 for Christians. For some reason Haaretz omitted this piece of information which is probably the most important of them all.

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