The Jewish population throughout Israel today make up the majority demographic in the tiny country. But all that could come to a grinding halt in a matter of decades, said chairman of the Triguboff Institute and former Mossad head Efraim Halevy.
The reason for the risky demographic change can be attributed to two factors: the ever-increasing influx of non-Jewish Russian immigrants, and the gradual rise in Arab birth rates.
The Triguboff Institute, which works with Russian immigrants hoping to make aliyah to Israel, warned that due to strict conversion laws, there could be over a million Israeli citizens who are not considered to be Jewish within 20 years, seriously shifting the population balance towards Arabs.
Every year, more than 15,000 immigrants make aliyah (move to Israel) from the former Soviet Union and the Ukraine. However, according to the restrictions set by the Chief Rabbinate, a body of ultra-Orthodox rabbis that has authoritative rule over religious law in Israel, at least “85 percent of these new olim below the age of 40 are not halachically (according to Jewish law) Jews,” said Shalom Norman, director of the Institute.
This reality poses severe problems for the Jewish population living in the tiny country. Within two decades, approximately 15 percent of the population might not be Jewish according to Torah law, said Norman. From there, it is only a matter of time before non-Jews make up the majority population in the Jewish state.
Halevy said that the issue of conversion was urgent in order to deal with this issue. “One has to revert in one way or another…to the approach that conversion is a national necessity for Israel without which Israel will not have a Jewish majority in this country in the foreseeable future.”
In an effort to resolve the potential demographic problems posed by the overwhelming influx of Russian immigrants, the Institute recently began conversion classes for dozens of hopeful olim (Israeli immigrants) in Russia and Ukraine. Entitled Maslul (Hebrew for path), the new venture aims to expedite the conversion of people in the process of making aliyah who are not recognized as Jewish by the Rabbinate.
Said Norman, “The Triguboff Institute’s goal is to carry out most of the conversion process before the immigrants-to-be come to Israel.”
Despite the Institute’s best intentions however, there is yet another threat facing the population’s majority in the Jewish state: the ever-increasing Arab birth rate.
According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), in 2006 Arabs accounted for approximately 1.4 million people, or 20 percent, of the Israeli population. However, that number is projected to increase dramatically to well over 2.6 million by the year 2035. The CBS based its predictions on ethnic and religious demographics, overall fertility rate, life expectancy, and age demographics.
Although the Jewish population is also projected to increase at the same time, it is estimated that the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs will stabilize within the next few decades, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Bearing the data in mind, it brings to light a sincere concern as to where Israel’s Jewish population will stand in the coming years.
Abra Forman contributed to this report.