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2017 Annual Assessment

The population of Israel has grown steadily. Recently, it has overtaken the United States as the largest Jewish population in the world. By the middle of the 21st century, most of the world’s Jews, more than half, will live in Israel. At the same time, the composition of Israeli Jewish society is also changing. Most Jews in Israel today are native-born. The significance of this is that they are raised in a common environment, learn in the Israeli education system, have compulsory military service (for the most part), and are exposed throughout their lives to the cultural, social, and political advantages of the state.

At the same time, the composition of Israeli society is also shifting according to religiosity. The Haredi and National-Religious sectors are growing while the traditional center and, to a lesser extent, the secular are weakening. To compare: The Diaspora is largely characterized by demographic stability with a slightly negative trajectory due to low birth rates and an aging population. In the United States, as in Israel, the proportion of Haredim in the Jewish population is also growing. High intermarriage rates in the Diaspora distances some Jews from Jewish institutions and from Jewish expressions in the personal and familial spheres. On the other hand, mixed marriages expand the circle of non-Jews who have some familiarity with someone Jewish, and through them familiarity with Judaism and Israel.

Implications for how the West Relates to Israel and the Jewish People

  • The West takes a particular interest in issues related to the demographics of Jews and non-Jews in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. That is, regarding the significance of continued Israeli control over the West Bank, and potential future Israeli decisions to annex territories or parts of such, and their impact on Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature.
  • There is some interest in the shifts of the relative weight of various groups in Israeli society as well. Especially, there is much attention given to the growth of the religious and Haredi sectors of society given the tendency of these groups to hold right-wing political positions. Moreover, given the lack of separation between religion and state in Israel, these sectors’ desire to strengthen the religious nature of the Israeli public sphere, could be perceived negatively by considerable segments of the liberal West.
  • Another demographic focal point that draws the West’s attention is the influence of immigrants from the former Soviet Union on Israeli politics and society. On one hand, this large wave of immigration has had a moderating effect on processes that threatened to erode Israel’s Jewish majority; on the other hand, these immigrants are largely right-wing in their political positions. Moreover, as a Russian diaspora, they influence and can help improve Israel’s diplomatic relationship with Russia.