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Monday, April 18, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Orthodox majority projected in Israel by 2030

TEL AVIV — Israel is bracing for the prospect that Orthodox Jews will become the majority in what has long been a fiercely secular state.


A report asserted that Orthodox Jews would become the majority of Israel by 2030, with the so-called Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox, reaching one million people. The report by the University of Haifa cited a galloping birth rate by religious Jews, which exceeded both that of their secular counterparts and many Arabs, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The public agenda, the public square and the cultural aspects of the country stand to all reflect the spirit of the Haredi and religious world," the report, titled "Israel 2010-2030: On the Path to a Religious State," said. "The more the Haredi sector grows, the wider the economic gaps between that sector and the rest of the population will be."

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The report, authored by demographer Arnon Sofer, said the ultra-Orthodox, based on an annual natural increase rate of up to seven percent, would expand their representation in Israel's parliament. Sofer said Haredi political parties would seek to enhance Jewish observance in public life.

"Education will become Torah-based, courts will be operated according to Jewish religious law and much of the media will undergo a transformation in which a large amount of the content it broadcasts will disappear," the report said.

This marked Sofer's second study on Jewish demography in Israel. In the 1980s and 1990s, Sofer published studies that warned of soaring Arab birth rates that would make them the majority of Israel, predictions that have not been borne out.

The latest report said Israel would have an Orthodox Jewish majority by 2030 should current birth rates continue. Sofer said this could result in Israel's annexation of the West Bank, the country's loss of democracy and wealth.

"As long as the Haredi percentage of the population increases, the economic gaps between the haredi population and the remainder of the population will continue to grow, requiring a greater transfer of funds [from the secular population] to support them," the report said. "Their differential participation in the work force not only creates a situation of total dependence on the income-earning population, but also inequalities that only continue to grow as well as higher dissatisfaction, bitterness and feelings of suffocation among taxpayers."

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel's leaders have sought to reduce the influence of Jewish observance. In the 1950s, young Orthodox immigrants were pressured to remove their earlocks and work on the Jewish Sabbath.

For his part, Sofer recommended that the government introduce what he termed "Western and democratic elements" in all schools. At the same time, he raised the prospect that secular Jews would stage a "revolution" and impose their values throughout the country.

"If our decision-makers do not come to their senses, the Zionist vision will come to a tragic end and the people of Israel will again find itself in the Diaspora facing anti-Semitism and assimilation," the report said.

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