Jewish Congress Says World Jewish Population Shrinking

news report from: by By Richard H. Curtiss © Copyright 1995-1999, American Educational Trust. All Rights Reserved.

According to the survey, released in September, there are a total of 13.5 million Jews in the world, which is less than the total population of Madagascar or Cameroon. Of these, the largest community is 5.6 million Jews living in the United States. The second largest group is 4.9 Jews living in Israel. The third largest Jewish community is 600,000 Jews living in France.

Other Jewish populations include Russia, 400,000; Canada, 360,000; Great Britain and Ukraine, 280,000 each; Argentina, 220,000; Germany, 71,000; Iran, 25,000; Panama, 7,000; Hong Kong, 2,500; Gibraltar, 650; Yemen, 400; Syria, 100.

The most startling claim made in the survey is that because of low birthrates and high intermarriage, the Jewish population of 8.6 million living outside Israel may decline by 50 percent within a generation. This, according to the study released in Jerusalem, is partly because, except for the Orthodox Jewish community, Jewish birthrates outside Israel are not at replacement levels.

The overriding reason for the decline in numbers of Jews outside Israel, however, is intermarriage. Fifty percent of diaspora Jews marry outside their faith, and in some American cities the intermarriage rate reaches 80 percent. Other surveys indicate that of intermarried couples in the U.S. where one partner is Jewish, only about 20 to 25 percent raise their children as Jews.

“Right now assimilation is something that worries Jewish communities around the world, and the concept of Jewish continuity is the motto in many of them,” Dr. Avi Becker, director of the Institute of the World Jewish Congress which released the study, told the Jerusalem Post. He called the present situation “good for the Jews but bad for Judaism.”

“This is part of the success story of world Jewry today,” Becker explained. “It is so popular to be Jewish in so many communities, particularly in North America, that we are being hugged by the society around us. They accept us and we enjoy equal opportunity, sometimes even more than that, so we are not looking anymore for our separate identities...For us as Jews, the biggest challenge today is how to maintain a Jewish life in a post-emancipated society in the West.”

“Assimilation is something that worries Jewish communities around the world.”

Jews are found today in more than 100 countries, the report said. But outside Israel there has been no natural growth in any Jewish community, and in some the number of births is below the number of deaths.

“In Western societies today, Jews are known to be more modern than the society around them,” Becker said. “Jews today in Western societies are among the least married, with fewer children than the people around them. The growing rate of divorce and the growing number of singles in Jewish communities contributes to negative growth, in addition to growing assimilation.”

The report showed that Jewish communities have grown in a few countries due to immigration. These include Canada, Brazil and Germany. In Germany the rapid growth results from arrival of Jews from countries of the former Soviet Union.

Immigration and emigration information traditionally has been kept secret in Israel, but the report says some 500,000 Israelis have left the country since its establishment. Of these Israeli emigrants, 350,000 live in the United States, 40,000 in Canada, 30,000 in Great Britain, 10,000 in South Africa, 8,000 in Germany, and 5,000 in Australia.

Since Israel does not officially acknowledge the permanent departure of any former Jewish resident who has returned to Israel for a visit over the previous four years, it is likely that the total of those who have left Israel for good actually is considerably higher than the number reported in the survey. As a result there may be double counting in the World Jewish Congress report of Jews whom Israel still considers residents but who in fact have emigrated to other countries. This means that the total of Jews in the world may in fact be even lower than 13.5 million.

Demographic Discrepancies

While the World Jewish Congress figures may surprise people who thought there were many more Jews in the world, there is other evidence that its figures for Israel may in fact be inflated. At the end of 1996 Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that Israel’s population had reached 5,764,000. (See “Demographics,” p. 40, March 1997 Washington Report.)

Of these residents of Israel, 4,657,312 were Jews, 841,544 were Muslims, 167,156 were Christians, and 97,988 were Druze (a sect deriving from Islam). This yields a total of 1,106,688 non-Jewish residents, most of them Arab Palestinians.

If one adds to these figures the estimated 2.2 to 2.4 million Muslim and Christian Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, the total of Palestinian Arabs presently living within the borders of the former mandate of Palestine comes very close to 3.5 million.

For a long time demographers estimated that by 2010 the number of Christian and Muslim Palestinians would exceed the number of Jews living in Palestine. But there may already be 3.5 million Arabs (or more if their numbers have been deliberately undercounted) within the former mandate of Palestine. And the 4.6 million Jews may in fact have been overcounted by as much as 600,000, as explained above.

This makes the present Israeli government’s unwillingness to allow the Palestinians to have their own state in the West Bank and Gaza even more inexplicable. If the real difference between the Jewish and Arab populations is no more than 500,000 at present, the lines are likely to meet very soon after the year 2000. This could happen even more quickly if more Palestinians from the huge camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan and from the expatriate population in the Gulf and in the United States, some of whom already are West Bank residents, choose to join relatives in the towns under Palestinian control

Too Few Jews for Jerusalem

The problems the non-availability of potential Jewish residents creates for ambitious Israeli expansion plans are illustrated in an Aug. 16 report from Jerusalem by Washington Post staff writer Lee Hockstader. Ever since it occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli government has fought a losing battle to maintain the 74 to 26 percent Jewish majority over Muslim and Christian residents it created when it combined West and East Jerusalem. At present, according to Israeli government statistics, 70 percent of the city’s population remains Jewish, and the other 30 percent includes, in addition to East Jerusalem’s Arab residents, several thousand non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union who accompanied the recent influx of Jewish immigrants.

To keep this Jewish majority, however, the Israelis have resorted to “annexing” to Jerusalem large open areas of the West Bank upon which Jews-only housing has been built. Israel now is seeking to annex to West Jerusalem other populated Jewish suburbs to the west of the city. Nevertheless, since the 1970s, the number of Jews moving to Jerusalem have not replaced those who have left in search of better housing in the suburbs or better jobs in Tel Aviv or Haifa, where Israel’s high-tech industries are situated. Meanwhile, because the Israeli government is seeking to force out individual Arab residents on a variety of technicalities, many Palestinians who have been working abroad are returning to Jerusalem to avoid losing their residency papers. Israeli planners estimate that the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem, even in its present gerrymandered state, could rise to 40 percent by 2020.

Particularly revealing was the reaction of Israeli authorities to an East Jerusalem census by Palestinian demographers inlate 1997. Although the Israeli parliament declared the census illegal and some of the census takers were arrested, the results suggested that the real Palestinian population of East Jerusalem is 15 percent higher than the 180,000 acknowledged by Israeli authorities.

The reason for the persistent increase in the percentages of Palestinians living in all parts of the former mandate of Palestine is the considerably higher Palestinian birthrate. In Gaza, the Palestinian birthrate is one of the highest in the world. In Israel proper, Arabs also have the highest birthrate, followed by Orthodox Jews, with other Israeli Jews far behind.

“We have to keep [Jerusalem’s Jewish-Arab ratio] at 70-30, more or less,” chairman Uziel Wexler of the Jerusalem Development Authority told TheWashington Post. “It you breach it, it becomes a political issue and Jerusalem is very sensitive.”

Added Jerusalem’s Likud Mayor Ehud Olmert: “We look at Jerusalem as our capital and the only way we can achieve this is by having a very substantial Jewish majority.”

This is increasingly difficult to do, however, despite the Israeli government’s well-known tinkering with Jewish population statistics over many years, and now its apparent falsification of Arab population statistics as well.


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