2023 update: No Arab demographic time bomb

The United States should derive much satisfaction from Israel’s demographic viability and the enhanced posture of deterrence deriving from it.

Jerusalem city center, Sept. 20, 2022.  Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Jerusalem city center, Sept. 20, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

In 2023, Israel is the only Western democracy with a relatively high fertility rate. The country’s thriving demography provides for bolstered national security (larger classes of recruits), a growing economy and a more confident foreign policy.

Contrary to the projections of the demographic establishment at the end of the 19th century and during the 1940s, Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is higher than those of all Muslim countries other than Iraq and the sub-Saharan Muslim countries. Based on the latest data, the Jewish fertility rate of 3.13 births per woman is higher than the 2.85 Arab rate (since 2016) and the 3.01 Arab-Muslim fertility rate (since 2020).

The Westernization of Arab demography is a product of ongoing urbanization and modernization, with an increase in the number of women enrolling in higher education and increased use of contraceptives.

Far from facing a “demographic time bomb” in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish state enjoys a robust demographic tailwind, aided by immigration.

However, the demographic and policy-making establishment persists in echoing official Palestinian figures without auditing, ignoring a 100% artificial inflation of those population numbers. This inflation is accomplished via the inclusion of overseas residents, double-counting Jerusalem Arabs and Israeli Arabs married to Judea and Samaria Arabs, an inflated birth rate and deflated death rate.

In 2023, Israel is facing a potential wave of aliyah (Jewish immigration) comprising some 500,000 immigrants from the Ukraine, Russia, other former Soviet republics, France, Britain, Germany, Argentina, the United States, etc., which requires Israel to approach proactive immigration policy as a top national priority.

Jewish demographic momentum

• The number of Israeli Jewish births in 2022 (137,566) was 71% higher than 1995 (80,400), while the number of Israeli Arab births in 2022 (43,417) was 19% higher than 1995 (36,500), as reported by the February 2023 Monthly Bulletin of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS).

• In 2022, Jewish births (137,566) were 76% of total births (180,983), compared to 69% in 1995.

• The fertility rate (number of births per woman) of Israeli secular Jewish women has trended upward during the last 25 years.

• Israeli Jewish women—who are second only to Iceland in workforce participation—are unique in experiencing a direct correlation between rising fertility rate, on the one hand, and a rise in urbanization, education, income, integration into the job market and a wedding age, on the other.

• In 1969, Israel’s Arab fertility rate was six births higher than the Jewish rate. In 2015, both fertility rates were at 3.13 births per woman, reflecting the dramatic Westernization of Arab demography, triggered by the enhanced social status of women, higher wedding age (24), expanded workforce participation and a shorter reproductive window (25-45 rather than 16-55). According to Israel’s Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, in 2021, the Jewish fertility rate was 3.13 (and 3.27 with an Israeli-born Jewish father), while the overall Arab fertility rate was 2.85 and the Muslim fertility rate was 3 (Judea and Samaria Arab fertility rate—3.02). The average OECD fertility rate is 1.61 births per woman.

• The unique growth in Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is attributed to optimism, patriotism, attachment to Jewish roots, communal solidarity, a frontier mentality and a declining number of abortions (34% since 1990).

• In 2022, there were 45,271 Israeli Jewish deaths, compared to 31,575 in 1996, a 43% increase, while the size of the population almost doubled during the same period. This reflects a society growing younger. In 2022, there were 6,314 Israeli Arab deaths, compared to 3,089 in 1996, a 104% increase, which reflects a society growing older.

• In 2021, Israeli males’ life expectancy was 80.5 and Israeli females’ was 84.6. Israel’s Arab life expectancy, while lower (78 per men and 82 per women), is higher than the U.S. life expectancy (men, 73.2, women, 79.1). Life expectancy of Judea and Samaria Arabs is 74 for men, and 78 for women.

• In 2022, the number of Israeli Jewish deaths was 33% of Jewish births, compared to 40% in 1995—a symptom of a society growing younger. In 2022, the number of Israeli Arab deaths was 14.5% of Arab births, compared to 8% in 1995—a symptom of a society growing older.

• Since 1995, the demographic trend has expanded the younger segment of Israel’s Jewish population, which provides a solid foundation for enhanced demography and economy.

• The positive Jewish demographic trend is further bolstered by Israel’s net immigration, which consists of an annual aliyah (Jewish immigration), reinforced by shrinking emigration: from 14,200 net emigration in 1990 to 10,800 in 2020 (while the population doubled), which is higher than the 7,000 average annual net emigration in recent years. (The 2020 numbers may reflect the impact of COVID-19 on air travel.)

Westernization of Arab demography

• A dramatic decline in the fertility rate, from nine births per woman in the 1960s to 3.02 births in 2022, is documented by the CIA World Factbook, which generally echoes the official Palestinian numbers. This trend reflects the Westernization of Arab demography in Judea and Samaria, which has been accelerated by sweeping urbanization (from a 70% rural population in 1967 to a 77% urban population in 2022), as well as the rising marriage age for women (from 15 to 24), the substantial use of contraceptives (70% of Arab women in Judea and Samaria) and the shrinking of the reproductive window (from 16-55 to 24-45).

• The median age of Judea and Samaria Arabs is 22, compared to 18 years old in 2005.

• The Westernization of fertility rates has characterized all Muslim countries other than those in the sub-Saharan region: Jordan (which is very similar to the Judea and Samaria Arabs)—2.9 births per woman; Iran—1.9; Saudi Arabia—1.9; Morocco—2.27; Iraq—3.17; Egypt—2.76; Yemen—2.91; United Arab Emirates—1.65, etc.

• The number of Arab deaths in Judea and Samaria has been systematically under-reported (for political and financial reasons), as documented by various studies since the British Mandate. For example, a recent Palestinian population census included Arabs who were born in 1845.

Artificially-inflated Palestinian numbers

• The demographic and policy-making establishment of Israel and the West refrains from auditing the official Palestinian data, and therefore does not report the following:

• Approximately 500,000 overseas residents, who have been away for over a year, are included in the Palestinian population census. However, internationally accepted procedures stipulate only a de-facto count. Furthermore, this number was 325,000 in 1997 following the first Palestinian census, according to the head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. It increased to 400,000 in 2005, as documented by the Palestinian Election Commission. The number grows daily because of overseas births.

• Some 375,000 eastern Jerusalem Arabs, who possess Israeli ID cards, are double-counted. They are included in the Israeli census as well as in the Palestinian one.

• The more than 150,000 Arabs from Gaza and (mostly) Judea and Samaria who married Israeli Arabs and received Israeli ID cards are also double-counted.

• The P.A. census does not exclude some 390,000 Arab emigrants from Judea and Samaria. The census ignores the annual net emigration of Arabs (mostly young) from Judea and Samaria (around 17,000 annually in recent years). Net emigration has been a systemic feature of the area since the Jordanian occupation in 1950, if not longer. For example, 12,580 in 2022, 28,000 in 2021, 26,357 in 2019, 15,173 in 2017 and 16,393 in 2015, as documented by Israel’s Immigration and Population Authority, which records all Jewish and Arab exits and entries via Israel’s land, air and sea international passages.

• A 32% artificial inflation of Palestinian births was documented by the World Bank (page 8, item 6) in a 2006 audit. While the P.A. claimed an 8% increase in the number of births, the World Bank detected a 24% decrease.

While the official Palestinian population figure for Judea and Samaria is 3 million, when the above factors are taken into account, the resulting figure is less than half of that: 1.4 million.

The bottom line

The United States should derive much satisfaction from Israel’s demographic viability and the enhanced posture of deterrence deriving from it, which is the United States’ top force and dollar multiplier in the Middle East and beyond.

In 1897, there was a 9% Jewish minority in the combined area of pre-1967 Israel, Judea and Samaria, expanding to a 39% minority in 1947. In 2023, there is a 69% Jewish majority (7.5 million Jews, 2 million Israeli Arabs and 1.4 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria), with the trend heavily favoring Jewish population growth.

In contrast to conventional wisdom, there is no Arab demographic time bomb. There is, however, a robust Jewish demographic tailwind.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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