Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Tuesday, August 27, 2002
Here's an interesting news item, from the Jerusalem Post: 80,000 Palestinians emigrated from territories since beginning of year. Meanwhile, I note that, according to the Israeli Absorption Ministry that over 18,000 Jews have moved to Israel in 2002. That's way down from the average from 1992 through 2001 of about 70,000 per year, but (a) you'd expect the number to be down 'cause we're running out of Russian and Ukrainian Jews - immigration is up from Western Europe, North America and South America, and down dramatically only from the former Soviet states; (b) you'd expect the number to be down, because there's a war on; (c) 18,000 coming in is still a whole lot higher than 80,000 going out. It's also on-track to being a better year than 1989, and only down 25% from last year, which in turn was only down about 25% from the prior year - again, not bad considering there's a war on.

The demographic case for a strategic withdrawal from the territories is still compelling. There are 1 million Arabs in Gaza and 2 million in Judea and Samaria, and their birth rate is prodigious. But changes at the margins do matter. In that regard, observe the following projection for how Israel could bring in half a million additional Jews in the next decade:

FRANCE & WESTERN CONTINENTAL EUROPE: The situation in France is well-known. While the majority of French Jewry is strongly French-identified and secular, a growing minority has been radically alienated by the French government's unconcern about Arab violence against Jews in France and about growing Muslim unrest in France generally. There are about 600,000 Jews in France, 200,000 elsewhere in Western Europe (excluding Britain). About 1,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel from France this year through July, a year of particularly brutal war. Tripling that rate would mean bringing about 1% of French Jewry to Israel per year, or 60,000 over a decade; a somewhat lower rate for the rest of Western Europe would mean 75,000 Jews total for the region.

LATIN AMERICA: There are about 250,000 Jews in Argentina, 130,000 in Brazil, 40,000 in Mexico, 35,000 in Venezuela, 30,000 in Uruguay and 15,000 in Chile, for a total of about 500,000 across the region. Apart from Mexico and Chile, every country on this list is in severe economic and political crisis. Argentina specifically has also experienced a huge surge in anti-Semitism. Moreover, most of these communities have extremely high Zionist consciousness. This year through July, over 3,000 immigrants have come from Argentina, a greater than 1% immigration rate during a time of war. At 2% per year for the decade, and assuming a comparable rate of immigration from the rest of the region, that's 100,000 Jews over the decade.

FORMER SOVIET UNION AND EASTERN EUROPE: It's really hard to know how many Jews there are left in this region. The data I'm working with, from the Jewish Virtual Library are estimates from 1998, which should be accurate for most of the world but not for Israel or the former Soviet states, given the rapid rate of migration between the two. Numbers are particularly hard to come by for this region for several reasons. First, who counts as a Jew? Halachic Jews are thin on the ground at this point, but there are many people who have some Jewish ancestry, and there are strong economic incentives to recognize this ancestry and come to Israel. But will these people identify as Jews and assimilate once there? A good question. Currently, there are probably 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not halachically Jewish. However, the overwhelming majority would probably convert if this were easier to achieve. The Israeli rabbinate takes a very strict view of the criteria for conversion, which is the main reason that this population remains non-Jewish. Only a small minority actively refuses to assimilate to Judaism. Assuming I'm right about all this, and assuming - big assumption - that the Israeli rabbinate can muster the the political will to solve the conversion problem, we still have the question of how many potential immigrants there really are. In that regard, I'll note that not only the Jewish Agency, which has an incentive to find people even who aren't there, but also Chabad Lubavitch, the chassidic Orthodox group that has done the most to establish a Jewish religious presence in the former Soviet Union, continue to find people interested in reclaiming a Jewish heritage. Taking an optimistic view of the remaining Jewish population in the former Soviet Union, there are probably 1 million Jews of some sort left in the former Soviet states and in Eastern Europe, mostly in Russia and the Ukraine. (I'm discounting the totals I get from the 1998 figures by about 200,000, to account for immigration since that date and over-counting.) This year through July, 10,000 immigrants have come from the Former Soviet Union, down from 27,000 in a comparable period in 2000. Post-war, the annual total should rise, but it has to decline over time because of sheer lack of candidates, so let's assume the current war-depressed rate is a good average for the decade. That's 20,000 per year, or 200,000 over the decade.

THE ANGLOSPHERE, EX-US: There are about 300,000 Jews in Britain, 360,000 in Canada, 100,000 in South Africa and 100,000 in Australia, for a total of 860,000 Jews. Most of these Jews are happy and comfortable. Unlike in France, the Jews of Britain do not fear for their safety, in spite of Muslim restiveness in that country, for several reasons, including: the comparatively small size of the Muslim population there; the fact that Jews and Muslims do not live close to one another; the fact that British Jews have been resident in the country longer than most French Jews; and the fact that the British government has not been notably hostile to Jews and Israel in the way or to the degree that the French government has. Jews in Canada and Australia are securer still. However, in both Canada and Australia, and to a lesser extent in Britain, aliyah has been increasing from the growing traditionally religious portion of the Jewish community. Moreover, both the Canadian and Australian communities have very strong Zionist feelings. South Africa is a special case in the Anglosphere, where the likely fate of the Jewish community is tied to the prospects of the country generally. The Jewish community has largely stayed put through the recent difficulties faced by that country - indeed, South Africa has seen immigration from Israel, as Israelis are less unnerved by the security situation in South Africa and appreciate the physical freedom and the ethnic and geographic diversity of the country. All that said, if things deteriorate in South Africa there is a good chance of high immigration to Israel. Assuming 10% of the community is traditionally religious, and that 1% of that community immigrates per year, plus 0.1% of the remaining Jewish population, that's about 15,000 Jews over the next decade. Not a huge number, but every bit counts.

UNITED STATES: There are between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 Jews in the United States, depending on how strict you are about defining a Jew. Historically, aliyah from the United States has been negligible. As a proportion of the Jewish community in America compared with other countries, I think it's the lowest in the world. Nonetheless, the sheer number of Jews in America is so large that even a small move in numbers could have a significant impact on overall emigration. Through July of this year, about 1,000 Jews emigrated to Israel. At 2,000 per year, that's 20,000 over the decade. Current numbers are actually up rather than down because of the security situation in Israel, and there's a new trend in haredi world particularly of uprooting entire communities and moving them en masse to Israel. I think there are real prospects for a dramatic increase in emigration. Assuming there are about 500,000 traditionally observant Jews in the U.S.A., a 1% per year emigration rate would yield about 50,000 immigrants to Israel. Assuming a 0.02% immigration rate from the rest of the population, and taking the broadest view of who is a Jew (6,000,000 total numbers, in other words), that adds another 1,000 per year or 10,000 over the decade, for a total of 60,000 from the United States over 10 years.

WILD CARDS: Since 1989, nearly 50,000 Jews came to Israel from Ethiopia. Prior to 1989, there was no expectation of Ethiopian immigration; in fact, no one thought there were even substantial Jewish communities in Ethiopia. Could there be another such unexpected group of Jews coming home Israel's future? The Bnei Menashe of India who have formally adopted Judaism number only in the thousands, but the tribe of which they are apart - which is suffering intense persecution - numbers over a million. Who knows how many other descendents of Jews among that tribe will choose to reclaim their heritage once it is seen as a passport out of a war-torn region? In southern Africa, there are the Lemba, a tribe of about 50,000 souls with a likely genetic link to ancient Israel's priesthood. Most of the tribe is Christian, but many are reclaiming their Jewish heritage. Again, the economic pull of Israel as a developed country could have a profound impact on this group's desire to reclaim that heritage. Then there are the Pathans of Afghanistan and Pakistan, all 15 million of them. There's no established genetic link in this case, and to date no move has been made on their part to "return" to Judaism. But if the reported cultural evidence of a link is accurate, the persistence of such customs in a severe Muslim environment suggests that, in a climate of greater freedom, some number of these people will decide to claim a Jewish connection. Again, it is likely that if this occurs, the majority who so choose will seek to move to Israel. I wouldn't assign a high likelihood to any of these speculative lost-tribe situations resulting in a large return to Judaism and immigration to Israel. However, there are enough of them, and the numbers in each case are large enough, that it's not crazy to assume that over the next 10 years there will be another "wild card" immigration comparable to the Ethiopian immigration. That's another 50,000 over a decade.

Here's how it adds up:

WILD CARD: 50,000
TOTAL: 500,000

Assuming no natural increase in the Jewish population, and assuming that the Arab population of Israel and the territories grows at its current rate, and with no net outmigration by the Arab population, this leaves the Jewish and Arab populations roughly at parity. But all these assumptions are too conservative. Assuming the Jewish population grows naturally at 1/2 the Arab rate of natural increase - which doesn't seem such a stretch, what with the increasing family size among religious Jews, the increasing proportion of the Israeli Jewish population that is religious, and the fact that historically the Israeli Jewish population has had a natural positive rate of increase - that adds another 750,000 Jews to the population of Israel. Assume further that Israel is able to dispose of the Gaza strip somehow; no one in Israel contemplates incorporating it permanently into Israel, so the only question is who can take charge there who will not wage continual warfare against Israel from there. That removes a projected 1.8 million Arabs (up from about 1.2 million today) from the demographic equation. We stillhave to reckon with about 1.3 million Israeli Arab citizens (up from about 1 million today) and about 3 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria (up from 2 million today). In this scenario, the Jewish majority between the river and the sea, excluding Gaza, would be about 60%. That's not good, but it's better than most of the projections I've read, and not very different from what the ratio is right now.

But this may also be too pessimistic, because the Palestinian territories are not capable of sustaining their current rate of population growth. It's not much remarked upon, but the economic growth rate in the territories when under Israeli rule rivalled that of the Asian tigers. The Palestinians under Israeli rule accumulated more wealth than Arabs anywhere in the world apart from the underpopulated oil sheikdoms. That economic growth, along with remittances by Palestinians working in the Gulf, underwrote the dramatic population explosion in the territories. But that's gone now. There are no Palestinians working in the Gulf states, and Islamist welfare will likely be significantly curtailed if Israel reasserts control of the Palestinian population centers. And even if Israel reasserts direct control over the territories, and the security situation improves dramatically, the Palestinian economy will never again be as integrated with Israel as it was in, say, the 1980s. With lots of people and a collapsing economy, the territories should be exporting people steadily over the next decade - perhaps not at the rate of 80,000 per year (a rate which, by the way, would reduce the growth rate of the Palestinian population in the territories by 2/3), but nonetheless significantly.

Of course, even if Palestinian population growth is slower than anticipated, and even if my optimistic projections about Jewish population growth are borne out, the ratio between the Jewish and Arab populations is unlikely to get much better than it is currently, absent a dramatic change. All I'm saying, really, is that time is not so against Israel as the Arabs - and many Jews - assume. Israel's Jewish population could well keep pace with the Arab population of Israel, Judea and Samaria. We have, after all, seen this movie before: since the signing of the Oslo accords, which were undertaken partly because of demographic fears, Israel's population has expanded by nearly 1 million people, the vast majority of them Jews. That being the case, Israel does not need to act out of pessimism, either by running away behind a wall or by agreeing to a "peace" under fire. The current prime minister has long said that time is on Israel's side. It's not as simple as that, but if Israel can restore a reasonable level of security, and crush the terrorist organizations, she should not feel that then she has to sign the first piece of paper someone puts in front of her. In the end, Israel wants an agreement - for moral reasons, but also for practical ones. Israel does not want to rule a large, non-citizen Arab population, and she does not want to risk losing the Jewish state from demographic change. But Israel may not be as close to the demographic zero hour as is commonly assumed.