ISRAELI POPULATION, ENVIRONMENT & SOCIETY FORUM GOALS
The State of Israel constitutes a rare phenomenon in the demographic landscape of the early 21st century: a high population density, a high birthrate — typical of Third World countries – coupled with an economy and consumption levels, typical of a First World country. Since its founding in 1948, Israel’s population has grown. Israel, by far, is currently the country with the highest population growth rate in the developed countries of the Western World, with the second highest population density. The ‘effective’ Israeli population density is even higher because more than half of the country’s area is covered with desert or is utilized for military and security purposes. Given the current growth rate, the population of Israel’s population is expected to double in size itself by mid-century, with the number of residents per unit area becoming one of the densest in the entire world.
The rapid increase in population size and density has far-reaching implications for all aspects of life in Israel, now and in the near and distant future. It affects all sectors of society. But Israel has never conducted a meaningful and honest discussion about the dramatic implications of population growth and its effect on living conditions in the country, on our future and our children’s future. Population pressures receive little, if any attention, in Israel’s public discourse and are rarely even considered a salient public controversy. The disregard for the subject within Israel’s government, the private sector, and even civil society is problematic and will surely do little to reduce the negative effects of rapid demographic growth. The Israel Forum for Population, Environment, and Society was established to fill this gap. Our organization seeks to understand and quantify the implications of population growth on the State of Israel, to encourage discussion and to propose and to lead changes in public policy that are urgently required to address the rapid increase in population.
We see the following goals as the basis for the forum:
1.The Forum will conduct free, thoughtful and uninhibited discussions and research about the rapid growth of Israel’s population, and its implications for the country’s social, environmental, security, and economic future. The Forum will raise the subject, still considered by many to be taboo, bringing it to the top of the public agenda, and create widespread awareness about Israel’s demographic challenges among the public.
2.The Forum will gather broad and comprehensive knowledge about the processes taking place in Israeli society that are driven by or related to the demographic change, in all aspects of life. With the help of the top experts in Israel and abroad, the Forum shall forecast emerging social and environmental trends and their future implications, as a function of different scenarios of population growth, for the coming decades. The Forum will serve as a knowledge center and clearing house of information to all concerned, and an active disseminator of knowledge to governmental bodies and civil society. It will encourage research by various groups regarding demographic changes and their impacts on society. We support research is applied I order to inform decision-makers and the public in Israel about the problems and dangers to the country’s future caused by the continued geometric increase in population, if actions are not taken to mitigate it.
4.The Forum will urge government institutions, decision-makers, and non-government organizations, to take significant measures to bring demographic stability to Israel, even if these are not popular. Sustainable population policies are critical to ensuring Israel’s long-term, prospects for economic prosperity, social welfare, environmental sustainability, and personal security for all inhabitants of the country, along with improving quality of life for world’s developing countries.
The leaders of the state need to say to the people produce so many children: “This is irresponsible, you are haring your children and your families. You are acting irresponsibly to your environment.” I suggest that anyone that has a stage and a microphone tell these segments of the population: “You are not all right…. The more people, the higher the prospects of falling below the poverty line.” It’s hard for the state to worry about families with many children to preserve them above the poverty line. We are growing at a tremendous rate. We are a very crowded country. Even the Negev is not so empty. No one pays attention to this point… There is no developed country in the world that comes close to the birth rates of Israel. The tendency to have many children has taken root. The number of Haredi children has grown three-fold since the 1960s – then there were 2.6 children – less than secular physicians. Today the number is greater than seven. Families with more than seven children cost the country a fortune.
Bnei Brak competes with Jerusalem for the number one poverty position. But the fact is that in Bnei Brak, among 80 percent families one of the parents does not work. It is impossible to demand that both parents should go to work. After all, there children at home. The cause of poverty is not the parents who don’t work but the children. The only way to assist is through child allowances. There is no other solution. If you want to say that there is no need for so many children – we have an entirely different story. But there are those who don’t want to say it.
In a democratic state, the general ethical system and public good are more important than the specific values of a particular group. Accordingly, there is no justification for the state to grant incentives for having children in cases where the families are motivated by religious values oe even if discontinuing the incentives will not, in and of itself, prevent the practice of having many children in such families. But if the ultra-Orthodox community aspires to maintain a lifestyle according to its values, it needs to be sure that the funding to provide its needs comes from a voluntary basis, as is accepted in other societies, whereby religious communities, such as the Catholics in the United States or the Ultra-Orthodox in the same country in other states.