When Israel was founded in 1948, its population was enumerated at 872,000 inhabitants (Figure 2.1). At the end of 2015, there were 8,464,100 people living in the country. Thus, in less than seven decades the population increased almost tenfold. This growth did not spread evenly over time: the population crossed the one million line in 1949; the two million line in 1958; three million in 1970; four million in 1982; five million in 1991; six million in 1998; seven million in 2006; and eight million in 2013. Hence, the number of years between population increases of one million has shortened over time.
The Jewish population and the non-Jewish population have each evolved at a different pace. While the number of Jews increased from 716,700 in 1948 to 6,706,400 at the beginning of 2015 – an increase factor of 9.4, the number of non-Jews increased from 156,000 to 1,757,700 in the same period, an increase factor of 11.3. Thus, the proportion of Jews out of the total Israeli population diminished somewhat from 82 to 79 percent (with fluctuations over time mainly caused by the number of new immigrants).
The Jewish population includes people with “no religion” most of whom are immigrants from the FSU who are not Halachically Jewish but have a Jewish background or some Jewish affinity making them eligible to settle in Israel under the Law of Return. Likewise, since 1967 the Jewish population has included Jews living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights (and in the Gaza Strip in the period 1967-2005); the non-Jewish population, for its part, includes the Muslim, Christian, and Druze inhabitants of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Figure 2.1 The Population of Israel, 1948-2015 (in Thousand)
The non-Jewish population is not made of one cloth. Rather, it is comprised of Muslims, Christians, and Druze. Over time, the share of Muslims out of the total non-Jewish population has increased from slightly more than two-thirds in 1950 to 83 percent today; during the same time, the proportion of Christians has declined from about one-fifth to less than ten percent . The proportion of Druze among the non-Jewish population has changed little. These trends have mainly been the result of differences in fertility levels among the three sub-groups.
The sole source of growth of the non-Jewish population is natural movement, namely the differential between births and deaths. In contrast, the number of Jews is determined by two factors: natural movement, and international migration balance, i.e., immigration to Israel minus emigration of Jews from Israel. Over the course of statehood, out of the total Jewish population growth, 60 percent is attached to natural increase and 40 percent to positive migration balance (Figure 2.2).
A detailed look by decennial intervals postulates that the contribution of migration balance was especially salient during the first years of statehood: in the first decennial period (1948-1960) it accounted for two-thirds of the total growth. In the second decennial period (1961-1972) the rate of migration balance diminished to 45 percent of the total population increase, and from the 1972 census to the 1983 census it further declined to only 25 percent. The large influx of Jews from the FSU, and to a lesser extent from Ethiopia, upended this trend, whereas between 1983 and 1995 the Jewish population increase was divided almost equally between natural movement and migration balance. Since then, we have witnessed a gradual decline in the role of migration, down to only 10.7 percent of the total Jewish population growth over the last five years.