Friday, March 28, 2008

Israel Central Bureau of Panic

Yoram Ettinger

In 1900, British experts projected that the large number of horse carriages in London would cause the city to be flooded by horse manure in 1950. They did not comprehend the socio-economic trends of 1900, did not realize the potency of the technological and transportation revolution, and erroneously assumed that human-kind and nature evolve in a predictable-linear fashion.

This is the fate of projections, such as the one made by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), expecting the Jewish sector to decline – and the Arab sector to expand – by 5% in 2030. Since 1948, many ICBS projections have been crashed against the rocks of reality, due to erroneous demographic assumptions. For example, in 1948 the founder/mentor of the ICBS, Prof. Bacchi, lobbied Ben Gurion to postpone the establishment of the Jewish State, since the 600,000 Jews were projected to become a minority by 1967. In 1967 and in 1973, the ICBS projected Jewish minority west of the Jordan River in 1987 and 1990 respectively. However, Arabs remained roughly a 40% minority, in spite of an all-time high Arab fertility in Judea & Samaria. In 1968 the ICBS projected sustained high Arab fertility rates until 1985. But, in 1985 Arab fertility rate plummeted to 4.7 children per woman from 9 children in 1968. In its 2000 projection toward 2025, the ICBS projected a moderate decline of Jewish and Arab fertility rates. However, Jewish fertility has been annually higher than ICBS’ highest scenario, reaching 2.8 children per woman in 2007 (the highest in the industrialized world!), while the dive in Arab fertility (3.5) has been 20 year faster than projected by the ICBS.

In contrast to ICBS projections, the annual number of Jewish births has grown by 40% between 1995 (80,400) and 2007 (112,455), while the annual number of Arab births has stabilized at 39,000. The proportion of Jewish births has expanded from 69% - of total births – in 1995 to 75% in 2007.

The ICBS has also blundered in its Aliya (Jewish immigration) projections. In 1948 it contended that there was no chance for a massive Jewish Aliya to conflict-ridden and economically-deprived Israel. However, one million Olim arrived. In 1972, Prof. Bacchi insisted that Aliya would be severely curtailed, since “Western Jews do not wish to come and Soviet and East European Jews cannot come.” However, some 200,000 Olim arrived. During the mid-‘80s, Bacchi’s successors precluded the eventuality of a massive Aliya from the USSR – even if the gates would be opened – due to social, economic, cultural, technological and security factors. They, also, underestimated the number of Soviet Jews by 50%. One million Olim arrived from the USSR. In 2008, the ICBS persists in under-projecting Aliya, ignoring the substantial Aliya potential from the former USSR, USA, France, Latin America, Britain, Germany, Hungary, So. America, etc.

The Zimmerman-led “American-Israel Demographic Research Group” (AIDRG) has identified a series of structural and factual errors, which have caused the systematic collapse of ICBS projections (although ICBS’ on-going documentation has been accurate!). The ICBS has approached Jews as a low-fertility normative western society, in defiance of non-normative Jewish history, including demographics. The ICBS has systematically under-projected Jewish fertility, forging an artificial secular-religious-ultra orthodox average (instead of employing separate averages, which would produce the accurate higher projection), ignoring the robust Jewish fertility in 2006-7 and disregarding the substantial fertility rise of Soviet Olim and their descendants. The ICBS has idolized Arab fertility rates, assuming that the unprecedented Arab population growth rates of the 1960s (within the “Green Line”) and the 1980s (in Judea & Samaria) would last beyond one generation. In fact, it was a pre-decline rise, as evidenced in any interaction between Western and Third World societies (Initially, health infrastructure reduces infant mortality and extends life expectancy, but then modernity reduces population growth rates). The ICBS has downplayed the impact – on the Israelization of Arab fertility - of urbanization, family planning, teen pregnancy reduction, expanded education and career mentality among Arab women and enhanced Arab integration into Israel’s health, educational and financial infrastructure. Modernity has produced an older Arab society (with many more Arabs in the age brackets of 60s, 70s and 80s), which has yielded a higher death rate, a lower birth rate, and therefore a lower natural increase rate, while Jewish fertility has crept upward.

Contrary to the ICBS, the UN Population Division documents that the dive of Muslim/Arab birth rates – with the backing of Moslem religious leaders - is the fastest in the world. For instance, Iran’s fertility has collapsed from 10 children per woman 25 years ago to 1.8 in 2007, while Egypt and Jordan fell below 2.5 and 3 from 7 and 8 children per woman respectively.

In 1798, the French demographer-economist, Maltose, projected global catastrophe due to a supposed geometric growth of the global population, while food supplies would grow arithmetically. Maltose did not comprehend the technological, medical and agricultural trends and did not expect the drastic decline in fertility rates.

Unlike ICBS’ and Maltose’ groundless fatalism and pessimism, Israel’s Jewish demographic reality has been a source for hope and optimism. Still, the 2008 ICBS projection indicates that the ICBS is determined to learn from history by repeating – and not by avoiding – serial drastic errors.


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