Secular Jews are expected to become a minority in Israeli schools and among the draft-age population within 20 years, according to a recent study published in the current issue of U.S. magazine Foreign Policy.
The study, which is based on figures from Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, predicts that by 2030 Arabs and ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews together will compose close to 60 percent of Israel's elementary school population and about 40 percent of eligible voters.
"The Changing Face of Israel" was written by Richard Cincotta, a consulting demographer to the U.S. government's National Intelligence Council, and Eric Kaufmann of the University of London. They use demographic analysis to explain the trends evidenced in the last Israeli election, including the growing strength of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, and attribute its success to secular Israelis' fears about the continuing erosion of the country's Zionist majority.
"As the secular proportion of Jewish voters recedes, Yisrael Beytenu's fortunes are bound to improve," write Cincotta and Kaufmann. "And that secular proportion will indeed recede, unless, of course, the rules of the game change."
The article demonstrates that the proportion of secular students has shrunk significantly in the past several decades.
"The numbers are impressive," the article states. "In 1960, the [Central Bureau of Statistics] reported that just 15 percent of students in the Israeli primary-school system were either Israeli Arabs or haredim. Now, about 46 percent are. Around 2020, the majority of primary-school students will likely be composed of children from those two groups, each segregated into its own segment of the school system." The authors note that the average number of births for each ultra-Orthodox woman is seven, and the average number for Arab Muslim women is 3.9.
A U.S. intelligence assessment released about six months ago predicted that demographic trends could have a significant effect on the composition of the current Knesset.
Prof. Sergio Della Pergola of Hebrew University, an expert in contemporary Jewish demography, said he was familiar with the figures cited in the Foreign Policy article but was not convinced that the article's predictions would prove accurate.
It remains unclear whether ultra-Orthodox fertility trends will remain steady in the coming years, he said, since much depends on state funding for child allowances.
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