Jews become a minority in Israel

Israel : Will Jews soon be a minority?

Humility is not one of Arnon Sofer's qualities. But Israel's best-known geographer may have good reason to be cocky: his studies have fundamentally changed the security policy of the Jewish state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even asked the bald man to be his tutor. Sofer is also said to have been the one who ultimately persuaded ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to give up the settlements in the Gaza Strip and to evacuate the area. “It was late at night in January 2004. Sharon called me into his office. I explained the dates to him in private. After that, he was determined to leave Gaza, ”says Sofer. Other sources confirm this version of events. Sofer's hobbyhorse is a science that shapes Israeli politics like no other. “Demography is everything,” he says.

"Israelis want three things: a state that is as big as possible, but remains democratic and Jewish," said the Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, Thomas Friedman. But researchers like Sofer claim that these goals are incompatible. Until 1967, Israel felt constantly threatened by its Arab neighbors. Then came the Six Day War. The conquered areas were henceforth a buffer zone, a guarantee for the survival of the state. But the importance of rule over the occupied territories has changed profoundly since then: "Today Jews make up 52.5 percent of the population west of the Jordan River," says Sofer. “In 20 years we will be a minority of 47.8 percent.

Then it will be impossible to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of our state. ”It is precisely this realization that makes Israel’s politicians think seriously about seeking territorial compromises with the Palestinians. Even former hawks like Ehud Olmert, who voted against the peace treaty with Egypt and the evacuation of Sinai, are now ready to give up almost the entire West Bank and divide Jerusalem. But does that also apply to the incumbent prime minister? Certainly, Sofer believes: "Nothing is further from Netanyahu than the annexation of Palestinian territories." The prime minister has long since accepted a division along the borders of 1967 - albeit with small corrections and area swaps because of the settlement blocks, claims the geographer.

Yet the settler movement stubbornly opposes such plans. "I don't think it's necessary to divide the land," says Mike Wise, founder of an organization that wants to prevent the evacuation of more areas. Led by former diplomat Joram Ettinger, she claims that Sofer and the Palestinians are tying a huge bear to Israel. An example of the complex war of numbers is the analysis of the birth rate. Ettinger and Wise say the trend is favoring Israel: "Yasser Arafat has claimed that the Palestinian uterus will win the war against us," says Wise. "But he was wrong."

Because while the birth rate of the Palestinians is falling, it is increasing among Jews. There is no demographic threat, but a demographic tailwind. “The number of Arab children born in Israel has been constant for years at around 39,000. In comparison, Jewish births rose from around 80,000 in 1995 to 130,000 in 2012. So their number is increasing - and with it the proportion of Jews in the population, ”emphasizes Wise. Half-truths are worse than lies, counters Sofer. “Far fewer Arabs die than Jews every year because, on average, they are younger. That's why Jews only make up 70 percent of the growth, even though they make up 80 percent of the population. So their share is decreasing, not increasing. "

The dispute over the numbers also polarizes politics. Maybe unnecessarily. Former Knesset MP and former settler leader Othniel Schneller says: "Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether Jews make up 50, 60 or 70 percent of the population - that is not enough for almost all politicians anyway." Avoiding conflicts requires an overwhelming majority. "And that is only guaranteed if we have two states."

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page