Israel's demography has not traditionally been part of the demographic mess in the Middle East. Indeed, the country's biggest concern for a long time was that it needed enough people to make the economy work and defend itself against hostile neighbors. Yet, more than three years ago I blogged about the emerging issue of the much more rapid growth of the ultra-orthodox population in Israel than of the rest of the population, and of the possibility that this might alter the political landscape of the country. Last month I discussed a new report out by Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University in Israel who is decrying the overall rapid rate of population growth there. Professor Tal's concerns today reached the ears of the New York Times in the form of an Op-Ed piece.
For a quarter-century, I have worked hard to protect Israel’s environment: organizing demonstrations, writing legislation, even suing polluters. Eventually, it dawned on me that while local environmentalists might enjoy isolated victories, our efforts may be futile in the long run — because we’re addressing only symptoms, not causes.Professor Tal is sensitive to the politics of the country and does not specifically address the high fertility of the ultra-orthodox population, although he does refer to studies that suggest the long-term cost of large families:
Israel’s environmental problems are largely a function of a rapid increase in population. The country will never be able to control greenhouse gases, maintain even minimal levels in our rivers and streams or protect our fragile habitats if this demographic growth continues at such an astonishing rate. With urban development taking over about five square miles of open space every five years, Israel’s wildlife is in steep decline. Species from gazelles and hedgehogs to bats and hyenas are endangered.
More than a quarter of Israeli children live below the poverty line; a majority of those live in families with five or more children. Israeli children growing up in families with two siblings or fewer, regardless of ethnic identity or religious affiliation, generally enjoy better opportunities.Nor does he get into the clearly related problem of settlements in the West Bank, which are driven both by politics and demography. He may be indirectly referencing these things, however, in his final comment that "[T]here was a time when expanding Israel’s population was a paramount national priority. Today, the focus must change from quantity to quality of life." John Stuart Mill made that same assessment back in the 19th century and it is still true today and true today everywhere in the world, not just in Israel.