Conflicting figures on demographics in the State of Israel were presented this week at the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee. While Prof. Arnon Sofer of Haifa University claimed the State of Israel will be predominantly religious-chareidi within 20 years, researchers Yaakov Faivelson and Yoram Ettinger presented graphs and tables showing reproductive rates are up among secular Jews.
There was also disagreement on Arab demographics, both inside the Green Line and in Judea and Samaria. Neither the absolute figures nor reproductive trends matched.
Prof. Sergei Della Pergola of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said he relies on Central Bureau of Statistics data showing a slow but steady increase over the past decade. "Ninety-five percent of Diaspora Jews live in more developed countries, and when Israel is among the ten most developed countries in the world (it is currently ranked 20-22) there will be much more aliya," he said.
Della Pergola says today there are 11 million people between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, although according to British Mandate predictions Eretz Yisroel could only sustain 2.5 million. "That shows what ecological demographic studies are worth," he acknowledged. He revealed that years ago he predicted only 400,000 people would immigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union, while in practice over one million came.
Prof. Arnon Sofer claims there is an absolute majority of Arabs in the Galilee today, and only 23 percent of residents there are Jewish. He also warned that "we have a Bedouin country controlling 10% of the State of Israel, and the area between Rishon Letzion, Ramle and Rechovot is occupied by 66% Bedouins living illegally."
Sofer also predicted that "we are on the way to becoming a religious state, and in 2030 we'll see a religious-chareidi Israel. I do not make value judgments, but merely provide estimates," he said. "Today there are 700,000 national-religious residents and 700,000 chareidim, while in another few years these two groups will swell to 2.5 million each out of 7 million Jews in Israel."
In 2007, he added, 110,000 Jews were born in Israel, of which only 18,000 were secular. "The secular population doesn't have children, just dogs," he warned.
Yoram Ettinger, of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group (AIDRG), revealed that the Central Bureau for Statistics has not been monitoring the Palestinian population since 1997. Instead all of the researchers rely on reports from the PA. Within these figures various inconsistencies are found, e.g. birth rates according to the Palestinian Interior Ministry, Health Ministry and Education Ministry differ. Ettinger also reports a gap of 30% separating PA ministries' birth rate figures and World Bank data.
Ettinger presenting statistics on a sharp decrease in births among Arabs in Judea and Samaria during the past 20 years, attributing the decline to Western influence. He claims the decrease is even higher than among Israel Arabs. According to Ettinger, births have been diminishing among Israeli Arabs since 1967, whereas during that period Jewish births have shot up 50% among the secular population. "While the average used to be two children per secular family, today you'll find 3-4 children per family in Afeka, Bavli and Hod Hasharon," he said.