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A Jewish Majority in the Land of Israel

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Growth trends and population forecasts have played a significant role in the political landscape of the Middle East, especially over the thorny question of Israel and the disputed territories.

The notion that the Jewish majority of Israel is in danger of being swamped by Arab fertility has repeatedly been used as a political and psychological weapon to extract territorial concessions from the Israeli government. In September 2010, U.S. president Barack Obama referred to the so-called “hard realities of demography” that threaten the survival of the Jewish state.[1]

Such a conclusion is wrong. Analysis of long-term demographic developments leads to quite the opposite conclusion: In the long run, a strong Jewish majority, not only in the state of Israel—as this author projected almost twenty-five years ago[2] and the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics recently reaffirmed[3]—but also in the Land of Israel[4] is quite possible.

Middle East Population Annual Growth

It is useful to analyze the processes among world populations in general and in the Middle East and the Arab world in particular. Such scrutiny helps to determine whether demographic trends within the Jewish and Arab population groups living in the Land of Israel differ or resemble the general tendencies observable within the global population over the last sixty plus years, the same general time frame as that of the state of Israel.

Beginning in 1966, the annual population growth in the Middle East rose consistently until it peaked at 3.24 percent in 1980[5] when it began to ebb—at a faster pace than in the developed world.[6] In the subsequent thirty-two years, the Middle East population increase has gone down by more than a half, to 1.45 percent in 2012.

During that same period, the annual growth rate of the Jewish population in Israel was much higher than in developed countries, largely due to the ongoing repatriation of Jews from various countries to Israel.[7] For the same reason, the annual increase of the Israeli Jewish population was, for the most part, higher than the population in less-developed countries. During the times of mass immigration to Israel, the Jewish growth rate was also significantly higher than the aggregated growth rate of Middle Eastern countries.

Since 2003, the annual increase of Jewish Israelis has grown steadily from 1.48 percent to 1.81 percent[8] while the aggregated annual increase of the Middle Eastern countries has decreased to 1.45 percent.

Population Changes among Israelis

After reaching its all-time peak of 2.89 percent in 1951, the natural increase rate of Israeli Jews began to decline, dropping to 1.07 percent by 1995. This sharp decrease was due to the influx of close to 600,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union in 1990-95,[9] which paradoxically lowered the natural increase rate for the Jewish population as it took approximately five years for the new citizens to settle in properly and start families. Thus, despite a lowered natural increase rate, the Jewish population grew in total by 24 percent. By 1995, the total fertility rate[10] of these new Israeli citizens increased, reaching 1.72 children per woman (compared to 2.66 for native-born Israelis), presumably due to their successful absorption into the larger society as well as a continued influx of others from the former Soviet Union along with Ethiopian immigrants during the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning in 1996, the natural increase rate of Israeli Jews has trended upward, rising to 1.5 percent in 2010, increasing by 25.2 percent in one decade.[11] The same natural increase rate of Israeli Jews was also maintained in 2011 and 2012.[12]

At the same time, the trend for Israeli Arabs has moved in the opposite direction. Having reached a peak of 4.41 percent in 1964[13]—a figure significantly higher than that of the rest of the Arab world —the natural increase rate of the Israeli Arabs declined by 37.2 percent from 1964 to 1987.[14] Furthermore, while the natural increase rate for Israeli Jews rose by 41.6 percent from 1995 to 2012, the Arab natural increase rate declined during the same time by 30.6 percent, with the rate in 2012 at its lowest level since 1955.

The main reason for such decline is the rapid decrease in Arab birth rates from 36.4 births per 1,000 in 1998 to 24.7 births in 2012. While the Arab mortality rate also dropped from 3.37 deaths per 1,000 in 1995 to 2.69 in 2010, it has risen to 2.78 deaths per 1,000 in 2012.

Population Age Structure

These demographic developments have an impact on the proportion of Israeli Jews versus Israeli Arabs. As a result of declining fertility, significant changes in the age structure of the Israeli Arab population have taken place during the past fifteen years.

For example, in 2000, the number of Israeli Arabs born was 39,579 (including 34,667 Muslims).[15] By 2012, the number of Israeli Arab newborns was 40,080 (35,730 Muslim).[16] The number of children born within the Jewish population rose from 90,900 in 2000 to 125,492 in 2012 and in the expanded Jewish population, which includes Jews, any population not classified by religion, and non-Arab Christians, from 94,327 to 130,460 in 2012. Thus the share of babies born to Jews increased from 67.9 percent in 2000 to 73.6 percent and of expanded Jewish population from 70.4 percent to 76.5 percent in 2012.

Taking a broader view, the number of Jewish children in the 0-4 age cohort rose by 26.7 percent while that of Arab children in this group rose by a mere 1.9 percent.[17] Thus, the share of Jewish toddlers within the general population increased from 68.2 to 72.8 percent and of the expanded Jewish population from 70.7 to 75.6 percent in 2012.

The shape of the age structure presented in Figure 3 clearly shows that the younger the age, the more the number of Jews increases while the number of Arabs either decreases or remains stable.

While in 2012 there were 81,600 21-year-old Jews (86,300 expanded Jewish population), their number steadily and continuously grew for the younger ages: 125,492 Jewish babies (130,460 for expanded Jewish population) born in 2012. By contrast, there were 31,100 21-year-old Arabs and 40,080 newly born Arabs in 2012—a smaller relative increase than their Jewish counterparts.

There were 98,100 Jews (or 2.38 per every Arab) at the age of “9” when the Arab population reached its peak for all ages—41,300 people. When checking this proportion of each age group down to age “0”, this ratio continuously increases, up to 3.13 Jews for every Arab at the “age 0” group.

The share of Jews among the “0” age group reached 73.6 percent compared to the lowest share of 67.4 percent at the age of “11.” The expanded Jewish population among age group “0” reached 76.5 percent (compared to the 70.4 percent at the age of “11”), or 3.25 children for every Arab child. Such developments started influencing the Israeli education system because the share of Hebrew education pupils among all pupils in the first grade began increasing in the 2008-09 school year. Taking into account the numbers of babies born in 2012, there will be at least 76.5 percent Hebrew-education first-grade pupils in the 2018-19 school year. The addition of the children of new immigrants (olim) will enhance this proportion still further.

Another way to look at the population dynamics of the two groups is to examine the other end of the aging spectrum. Israel’s Jewish population share of the 65+ age group was 88.5 percent (91.8 percent for expanded Jewish population) in 2012 versus 8.2 percent for the Arabs. Taking into consideration that the 45-75 age group of 2012 will belong to the 65+ age group of 2032, the share of the Jews in this age group would diminish to 81.7 percent (86.5 percent for expanded Jewish population), while the share of Arabs would increase to 13.5 percent, 64.8 percent larger than it was in 2012. The share of the Israeli Muslims at the 65+ age group will increase even more drastically, by 75.5 percent, from 6 percent in 2012 to 10.5 percent in 2032. In other words, during the last ten years, the share of Israeli Jews versus Israeli Arabs within the overall young Israeli population has increased, indicating that the Jewish population has started to become younger while the Israeli Arab population is getting older. With existing life expectancies factored in, the natural aging of Israeli Arab “baby boomers” will significantly increase their mortality level over the next two decades, causing an accelerating decline in the overall Arab natural increase rate.

Continuation of current trends will result in a convergence in 2025 of the natural increase rate for Jews and Arabs in Israel. For the first time in the modern history of the Land of Israel, the Arab natural increase rate may not be higher but rather equal to the natural increase rate of the Jews. Given the possibility of continued Jewish immigration, one can expect an intensification of the steadily rising Jewish share of the total population of the Land of Israel.

This trend becomes even more pronounced when studying the population of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, which until recently had been under Israeli administration and is now either part of the Palestinian Authority—dominated by the Palestine Liberation Organization—or a quasi-independent Hamas enclave.

Under the Israeli administration (1967-93), the natural increase rate of the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza Strip rose markedly from 2.52 percent in 1965 to peak at 4.21 percent in 1989.[18] However, over the next two decades, it declined noticeably to 2.88 percent in 2012. [19] It appears that the decline in the Palestinian natural increase rate in Judea and Samaria is accelerating even faster than among Israeli Arabs.

Combined with a massive emigration of Arab youth from these territories, especially from Judea and Samaria, the size of the younger age group will be reduced and coincidentally, the elderly age cohort of the population will increase, resulting in an increased mortality rate in the near future. Following these trends, the natural increase rate of Arabs in Judea and Samaria will be decreasing even faster.

Migration Balance and Population Annual Growth

Any proper analysis of demographic developments in the Land of Israel must take into account the critical role of the migration balance. Aliya—Jewish repatriation—has been a significant factor in narrowing the difference between Jewish and Arab natural increase rates. For example, while in 1990, the natural increase rate for Jews was equal to only 1.29 percent, their annual growth, due to immigration, was 6.18 percent, more than twice as high as the Arab natural increase for that year.

 

From 2008 to 2011, Jewish immigration to Israel rose 30 percent.[20] An analysis of immigration patterns reveals some surprising data about the countries of origin of these émigrés and points to future developments with important consequences.

 

In 2010, Israel ranked 15 out of 169 on the Human Development Index (HDI)—a comparative measure used to rank countries by life expectancy, education levels, and standard of living.[21] While about a million and a quarter Jews live in twenty countries with an HDI lower than Israel, another eight countries with significant Jewish populations (about 6,500,000) have a higher HDI than Israel.[22]

 

In 2000-10, 284,907 new immigrants moved to Israel alongside 44,639 returning expatriates.[23] Not surprisingly, about 87 percent of the newcomers came from countries with an HDI lower than Israel’s—59.4 percent of all repatriates came from the former Soviet Union, 10.2 percent from Ethiopia, and 4.1 percent from Argentina.[24] Only 13.5 percent came from countries with a higher HDI such as the United States or France. Yet in the first ten months of 2011, the largest growth of repatriation to Israel (compared to the previous decade) came from countries with a higher HDI: Their share of the total immigrant population more than doubled. Twenty-nine percent of these immigrants came from eight developed countries, 14.6 percent from the United States and 10.3 percent from France.

 

It may very well be that a combination of factors contributed to this change. The recent world economic crisis may be one. According to Reuters: “Employees of universities and researchers are among the biggest sufferers of economic slowdown in the United States … As a result, universities are cutting their budgets and staff, and many researchers are going home.”[25]

 

The other likely contributor is a rising wave of anti-Semitism, especially in Western Europe. According to Benjamin Jacobs, Holland’s chief rabbi, “the future for Dutch Jewry is moving to Israel.”[26] Relentless harassment in the south Swedish city of Malmö has driven most of its Jewish population out of the city, or even the country.[27] Recent years also have seen increasing numbers of Jews moving to Israel from France and the United Kingdom. There have been reports of Muslims assaulting Jews in Norway and Denmark and stone-tossing Arabs driving Jewish dancers from a stage in Germany.[28] A recent poll found that 38 percent of Muslim youth in Austria agree that “Hitler had done a lot of good for the people.”[29]

 

A spring 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finds

 

46% of the Spanish rating Jews unfavorably. More than a third of Russians (34%) and Poles (36%) echo this view. Somewhat fewer, but still significant numbers of the Germans (25%) and French (20%) interviewed also express negative opinions of Jews. These percentages are all higher than obtained in comparable Pew surveys taken in recent years. In a number of countries, the increase has been especially notable between 2006 and 2008.[30]

 

This situation has brought increasing numbers of Jews to Israel. According to data from 2012 published by the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the majority of olim continued to come from Europe (10,088, 49.4 percent of all immigrants), and the numbers rose by 30 percent in 2008-12.

 

The immigration from France with 1,923 individuals (9.4 percent of all immigrants) in 2012 remained steadily in third place from Europe after Russia (3,566, 17.5 percent of all immigrants) and Ukraine (2,100, 10.3 percent). Former USSR countries accounted for 35.9 percent of all immigrants to Israel in 2012. From 2008 through 2012, repatriation from Russia rose by 32.4 percent and from Ukraine even more by 58.9 percent.

 

A significant number of immigrants came from the United Kingdom (641, 3.1 percent). Repatriation from Scandinavian countries rose by 65.8 percent and from Italy by 161.9 percent; the increase from Holland was 22.2 percent and from Belgium, 24.6 percent. However, the most impressive growth of immigration during these four years came from Spain, by 232.1 percent.[31]

 

If these conditions persist, Israel may experience a substantial aliya wave into the near future, including an influx of skilled professionals, a welcome addition to Israel’s fast developing economy. The recent discoveries of huge gas deposits create an enormous momentum for the Israeli economy that is bound to change the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.

 

Many Israeli expatriates may also seriously consider returning to the Jewish state. During the years 2000-10, the number of returning Israelis was 21.3 percent higher than the previous decade. These developments would lead to a further increase in the annual growth of the Jewish population.

 

Of equal importance are emigration trends of the Arab population that began long before the 1967 Six-Day War. Demographer Justin McCarthy has estimated that about 200,000 Arabs emigrated from Judea and Samaria between 1949 and 1967. “After 1948, Palestinian high fertility and the limited economic potential of the land led to out-migration. The West Bank, in particular, had sizable out-migration from 1948 to 1967… emigration was now large-scale and directed mainly to the Arab world.” Migration rates from Gaza were much lower because until the 1960s, the Egyptian government, which controlled the territory, restricted emigration.[32]

 

According to Mustafa Khawaja, director of the Jerusalem Statistical Department of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS): “The net balance of arrivals and departures for the West Bank in the period 1967 to the present has been consistently negative, with an average of about 10,000 leaving annually … The main reason for migration by Palestinians relates to the economic factors resulting from the political instability and the infighting between the Palestinian parties.”[33] This view is supported by journalist Khaled Abu Toameh who wrote in August 2002:

 

Approximately 80,000 Palestinians have left the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year (a rise of 50 percent compared to last year), a senior Palestinian Authority official said Monday. The official … told The Jerusalem Post another 50,000 Palestinians are now trying to leave through the Jordan River bridges and the Rafah border crossing [between Gaza and Egypt].[34]

 

Two years later, Egyptian journalist Bissan Edwan stated that “according to Jordan[ian] statistics, at least 150,000 Palestinians left the West Bank during the intifada years from 2000 to 2002 and did not return,” concluding that the economic situation in the Palestinian Authority territories could lead to new waves of emigration. She also dismissed the myth of a demographic time-bomb by noting that net Jewish migration offset the higher Palestinian natural increase and that better access to birth control lowered Palestinian fertility rates.[35] The impact of out-migration was further reinforced by a 2006 poll published by An-Najah University in Nablus, which found that “one in three Palestinians wanted to emigrate. The 1,350 people surveyed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip cited dire economic conditions as the first reason, followed by lawlessness, political deadlock, and fears of civil war.”[36]

 

Arab emigration from Judea and Samaria increased even more in 2007-09. During the first seven months of 2008, the Jordanian-Palestinian border-crossing point located near the Karame bridge registered a negative migration balance of 63,386 people while in the first eight months of 2009, there was reported a negative migration balance of 44,000 people.[37]

 

World Bank figures also indicated a decrease in the size of the Palestinian population, by 0.45 percent in 2009 and by 0.37 percent in 2010.[38] Thus, in 2009-10, the negative migration balance was higher than the natural increase of the Arab population in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

 

Population Projections for the Land of Israel

 

It is a well-documented fact that Palestinian population figures as well as Palestinian-supplied growth projections are seriously flawed, rife with double-counting, presumed (and unsubstantiated) mass immigration, inflated birth numbers, and deaths not counted.[39] Considering those issues alongside the emigration trends should lead policymakers in Israel and abroad to a more nuanced view of demographic projections and decisions based upon them.

 

Consider the PCBS’ 2001 annual Statistical Abstract of Palestine.[40] According to its projection, the Arab population in the Palestinian-administered territories would amount to 4,077,981 people in 2005, then increase to 5,027,580 in 2010, to 5,354,988 in 2012, and finally to 6,632,439 in 2020. In fact, at the end of 2005, the actual PCBS population estimate was lower by 315,976 persons than the PCBS projection published just four years earlier.[41]

 

In December 2006, the PCBS proclaimed that the “Palestinian population and the Jewish population [east of the Jordan river] will be equal in 2010 … the Palestinian population will increase to 5.7 million in mid-2010.”[42] The reality was different: At the end of 2010, the PCBS issued a press release claiming that there were actually 4,108,631 Arabs in Palestinian-administered territories,[43] 918,949 less than it had projected in 2001. Similarly, a PCBS press release on December 31, 2012, estimated the Arab population at 4.4 million,[44] a number smaller by 955,000 than it had previously predicted.

 

The recent PCBS projection made at the end of 2012 stated that “the number of Palestinians in historical Palestine will total 7.2 million compared to 6.9 million Jews by the end of 2020.”[45] According to the recent Israel Central Bureau of Statistics projection, there will be about 1.9 million Israeli Arabs in 2020. Reducing this figure from the PCBS projection for all Arab population in historical Palestine in 2020 gives 5.3 million Arabs in Palestinian-administered territories. This estimate is 1,362,439 less than projected by PCBS in 2001.

 

But projections from Palestinian sources are not the only forecasts that need to be adjusted. In October 2007, this author prepared a demographic projection of the Israeli population based on observable trends since the founding of the Jewish state.[46] The resulting numbers, 12,805,000 persons in 2050, fell somewhere between two U.N. population projections—11,942,000 using the high forecast variant and 13,064,000 using the constant fertility rate variant.[47]

 

The author’s projection was based on certain assumptions: That just as in each of the last 120 years, the annual growth of the Jewish population would consist of natural increase as well as immigration. Some of the predictions, however, proved to be far more conservative than what actually transpired. For example, in 2003-10, average annual growth was 14.7 percent higher than originally estimated.[48] The 2007 report had also predicted that the natural increase rate of the Arab citizens of Israel would continue diminishing in the future. In fact, the natural increase rate of Israeli Arabs was 2.2 percent in 2012, 21.1 percent lower than assumed in 2007. In sum, based on the new data, the share of the Jewish population in Israel is expected to decrease to its lowest point of 79.2 percent in 2015, but starting in 2024 may begin to rise up to 81.8 percent of the total population in 2050 and to 83.2 percent by 2059.

 

Further, it is reasonable to conclude that an existing trend of growing natural increase in the Jewish non-ultra-Orthodox population will continue. This will likely be augmented by a positive migration balance since the majority of Jews living in the Diaspora are not ultra-Orthodox (Haredim).[49]

 

There were apparently no Haredim among the immigrants from the former Soviet Union and just 4.5 percent of these declared themselves as religious. There were only 7.2 percent of Haredim and 14.8 percent of religious people among immigrants from Europe and the United States. Just 3.1 percent of immigrants from Asia and Africa declared themselves as Haredi and 26.4 percent declared themselves as religious. All in all, the Haredi share of 2012 immigrants could be estimated at 3.6 percent and of religious people at 10.4 percent.

 

This would be accompanied by an accelerating decline in the natural increase among the Haredi population. According to the ICBS, the total fertility rate (TFR) of the Haredim has declined by 14.3 percent in just six years from 7.62 children per woman in 2003 to 6.53 children per woman in 2009, back to the level that existed twenty-five years before in the middle of the 1980s.[50] At the same time, the TFR of secular women rose by 8.9 percent from 1.90 children per woman in 2003 to 2.07 in 2009.

 

Likewise, from the beginning of the twenty-first century the TFR of Israeli Muslims decreased considerably, from 4.7 in 2000 to 3.5 children per woman in 2011.[51] The TFR of all Arabs decreased still further to 3.3 children per woman, very close to the 3.09 for Jews born in Israel.[52] In November 2011, a new comprehensive ICBS projection was published in which the government office admitted that in the past it had overestimated Israeli Arab fertility and underestimated Jewish fertility.[53]

 

An updated version of the author’s 2007 projections for the population of the State of Israel (extended from 2050 to 2059) appears in Figure 6. The numbers are presented side by side with the ICBS’s second and third scenario projections.

 

According to the author’s forecast prepared in 2007, the Arab population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza Strip would reach 2,496,000 in 2050. Extending the forecast for nine more years, this population could reach 2,761,500 people. Combined with the estimated population of the State of Israel, the total population of the Land of Israel would comprise some 19,487,000 people in 2059.

 

Based on these estimates, the expanded Jewish population share would be 83.19 percent of the population of the State of Israel and 71.4 percent of the total population of the Land of Israel in 2059.

Conclusions

Population growth for the Land of Israel at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century will be influenced by the Arab and Jewish natural increase rates reaching a convergence point based on similar live birth and mortality rates. It will also likely be influenced by continued Jewish immigration, including a new, possibly strong wave in the near future following the prolonged world economic crisis and manifestations of rising anti-Semitism around the globe. Repatriation will also be encouraged if the Israeli economy continues to be strong in the near future, an increased likelihood based in part on the huge gas and shale oil fields recently discovered in Israel. The share of Jews in the total population of the Land of Israel may also increase as a result of continued Arab emigration that may include Israeli Arabs as well. According to the results of the first-ever survey on political-social attitudes of Arab youth in Israel, conducted by the Baladna Association for Arab Youth and the Mada al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research, both in Haifa, 25 percent of the Arab youth in Israel want to emigrate.[54]

Every country has a natural and objective carrying capacity limit for the population living on its territory and, in this respect, Israel is no different than any other. With that in mind, demographic projections can and should be used as a tool for planning by the state as well as by municipalities to avoid mistakes that can damage vital infrastructure and public services, such as health, education, and welfare systems. Ignoring the impressive demographic changes of the last twenty years in Israel has produced heavy burdens on Israel’s health system due to a lack of hospital beds and a scarcity of medical personnel.[55] Overpopulated classrooms and a lack of qualified teachers is another such consequence.[56] Similarly, lower than necessary construction starts in the residential sector is causing pain for young couples.[57]

Developing proper demographic policies can be important tools for planning national security needs to assure internal order and the security of the state’s borders. Jerusalem must bear in mind that without developing such a professional, comprehensive, and long-term demographic policy, it will be very difficult to reach the vital goals of assuring a stable and secure future for generations to come.

Yakov Faitelson is the author of Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel, 1800-2007 (Israeli Institute for Zionist Strategies, 2008).

[1] NBC News, Sept. 23, 2010.
[2] Dan Petreanu, “Demography: Men or Myth,” The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 16, 1988, quoted in Yakov Faitelson, “‘Demography: Men or Myth‘ – 24 years later,” Apr. 4, 2012.
[3] The Jerusalem Post, June 25, 2013.
[4] The term “Land of Israel” is used here to denote the areas of Mandatory Palestine west of the Jordan River, namely, the territories constituting the State of Israel as well as Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and the Gaza Strip.
[5]Annual Growth Rate Percent, Near East Countries, U.N. Regions,” U.S. Census Bureau, International Programs, International Data Base, accessed Mar. 12, 2013.
[6] Dominique Tabutin and Bruno Schoumaker, “The Demography of the Arab World and the Middle East from 1950 to the 2000s. A Survey of Changes and a Statistical Assessment,” Population, 2005/5-6, Institute de démographie, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, pp. 505-615.
[7] “Table 13: Jewish Population, by Sex and Age (1948, 1951, 1954, 1956),” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 1956 (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, [hereafter ICBS], 1956), p. 19; “Table B/13: Jewish Population, by Sex and Age (1948-1965),” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 1966 (ICBS, 1966), p. 38.
[8]Table B/1: Population, by Population Group,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, May 2013 (ICBS, June 6, 2013), p. 4.
[9] Petra Nahmias, “Fertility behaviour of recent immigrants to Israel: A comparative analysis of immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union,” Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Mar. 17, 2004, pp. 83-120.
[10] The average number of children that would be born alive to a woman during her lifetime.
[11] Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2002 (ICBS, 2002), st3.02; Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2001 (ICBS, 2001), st3.01.
[12] Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2012 (ICBS, 2012), st3.01; “C. Vital Statistics,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics-February 2013 (ICBS, Mar. 7, 2013).
[13] “Statistic Tables for Live and Death Rates by Population Group,” Yearbook of Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 1955-2010 (ICBS, 2010).
[14]World Development Indicators: Birth Rate, Crude,” World Bank, Washington, D.C., accessed Mar. 7, 2013; “World Development Indicators: Death Rate, Crude,” idem, accessed Mar. 7, 2013.
[15] Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2001, st2.18.
[16]C. Vital Statistics,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics-February 2013.
[17] Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2001, st02.20; Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011 (ICBS, 2011), st02.21.
[18] “Demographic Characteristics of the Arab Population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, 1968-1993, #1025,” ICBS, July 1996, p. 15.
[19]World Development Indicators: Birth Rate, Crude,” World Bank, Washington, D.C., accessed Mar. 7, 2013; “World Development Indicators: Death Rate, Crude,” idem, accessed Mar. 7, 2013.
[20] “Emigration and Tourism, Table E/2: Immigrants by Type of Permit,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, ICBS, no. 11/2011, p. 143.
[21]Table 1: Human Development Index and Its Components,” Human Development Report 2010, U.N. Development Programme, New York, p. 143.
[22] Sergio DellaPergola, Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and in the Diaspora (Jerusalem: The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011), p. 61.
[23] “Immigrants by Type of Visa,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, st04.03.
[24] “Immigrants, by Period of Immigration, Country of Birth and Last Country of Residence,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, st04.04.
[25] Ynet News (Tel Aviv), Jan. 22, 2012.
[26] “Interview with Holland’s Chief Rabbi: Dutch Anti-Semitism,” Arutz Sheva (Beit El and Petah Tikva), July 4, 2010.
[27] YNet News, May 21, 2013.
[28] Fox News, June 24, 2010.
[29] David J. Rusin, “The Slow-Motion Exodus of European Jews,” FrontPage Magazine (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), Jan. 7, 2011.
[30]Unfavorable Views of Jews and Muslims on the Increase in Europe,” PEW Research Center Project, Sept. 17, 2008.
[31]Statistics,” Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, Tel Aviv, accessed June 17, 2013.
[32] Justin McCarthy, “Palestine’s Population during the Ottoman and the British Mandate Periods: Migration,” PalestineRemembered.com, Sept. 8, 2001.
[33] Mustafa Khawaja, “Highly-skilled into, through and from the southern and eastern Mediterranean and sub Saharan Africa. The Case of Palestine,” Robert Shuman Centre for Advanced Studies and the European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy, 2010, p. 8.
[34] The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2002.
[35] Bissan Edwan, “al-Qanbala ad-Dymoghrafiah fi Israil wa-Khidaal-Nafs,” Apr. 16, 2004.
[36] Reuters, Nov. 22, 2006.
[37] Khawaja, “The Case of Palestine,” p. 3.
[38] “Population Growth (annual %): West Bank and Gaza,” World Bank, Washington, D.C., accessed June 7, 2013.
[39] Bennet Zimmerman, Roberta Seid, and Michael L. Wise, “The Million Person Gap. The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza,” Mideast Security and Policy Studies, no. 65, The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Feb. 2006.
[40] “Palestinians in the Palestinian Territory (West Bank and Gaza Strip): 3.2 Population,” Statistical Abstract of Palestine, No. 2, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (hereafter, PCBS), Ramallah; “Table 3.2.1: Projected Population in the Palestinian Territory in the End Year by Region, 1997-2024,” PCBS, Nov. 2001, p. 470.
[41] Annual Report for 2005, Population and Demography, Health Status in Palestine 2005 (Ramallah: Ministry of Health-Palestinian Health Information Center, Oct. 2006), p. 1.
[42] “Palestinians at the End of Year 2006,” PCBS, Dec. 2006, p. 11.
[43] “Palestinians at the End of 2010: Table 2: Estimated Number of Palestinians in the Palestinian Territory by Status and Region,” PCBS, Dec. 30, 2010, p. 34.
[44] “Palestinians at the End of 2012,” PCBS, Dec. 2012, p. 1.
[45] Ibid., p. 3.
[46] Yakov Faitelson, “The Demographic Forecasts for the Population of the Land of Israel and the Reality (1898-2005),” Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual International Conference on Jewish Studies, Part 1: State of Israel, 60 Years of History (Moscow: Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization “Sefer,” Institute for Slavic Studies, 2008), p. 68; idem, “Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel (1800-2007), accessed Mar. 7, 2013, p. 47-70; idem, Table 1: Comparison of Forecasts for Citizens of the State of Israel up until 2050, “Demographic Forecast Scenarios until 2050,” The Institute for Zionist Strategies, Jerusalem, 2008.
[47] High-fertility assumption: Under the high variant, fertility is projected to remain .5 children above the fertility in the medium variant over most of the projection period. That is, countries reaching a total fertility of 1.85 children per woman in the medium variant have a total fertility of 2.35 children per woman in the high variant at the end of the projection period. Constant-fertility assumption: fertility remains constant at the level estimated for 2000-05.
[48] Faitelson, “Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel (1800-2007),” accessed Mar. 7, 2013, p. 50-3.
[49] According to a comprehensive survey conducted by the ICBS in 2009, 8 percent of Israeli Jews defined themselves as Haredi, 12 percent as religious, 13 percent as traditional religious, 25 percent as less traditional religious, 27 percent as not so religious, and 18 percent as nonreligious. See Seker hevrati 2009. Pirsum mispar 1433. B. mimtsaim ikariim. a. datiyut umeafienim demografiim uhevratiim kalkaliim beisrael (bnei 20 umala), ICBS Social Survey 2009, no. 1433, Jerusalem, Apr. 2011, p. 13.
[50] Ahmad Hleihel, “Fertility among Jewish and Muslim Women in Israel by Level of Religiosity, 1979-2009,” ICBS, Working Paper Series, no. 60, June 2011, pp. 32-4.
[51] Ibid., p. 15; “Fertility rates, Average Age of Mother and Sex Ratio at Birth, by selected characteristics of the mother. Muslims. 2011,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, Table 3.14.
[52] “Fertility rates, Average Age of Mother and Sex Ratio at Birth, by selected characteristics of the mother. Israeli born. 2011,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, Table 3.14.
[53] Ari Paltiel, Michell Spulker, Irene Kornilenko, and Martin Maldonado, “Tahaziot Haukhlusiyah le-Yisrael Letvah Arokh: 2009-2059,” Demography and Census Dept., Jerusalem, Nov. 30, 2011.
[54] Ynet News, Apr. 22, 2004.
[55]The Physician Shortage in Israel,” Israeli Medical Association, Tel Aviv, May 2011.
[56] Karen L. Berman, “Israel Must Overhaul Education System,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Mar. 29, 2012.
[57] Ron Diller, “What happened to affordable housing in Israel?” The Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2010.

 

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Between Missiles and Flour: The Inside-Outside Game of Hezbollah in Lebanon

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The Hezbollah is armed. Gunfire of Hezbollah and Amal supporters became audible on Beirut’s streets on early Sunday morning on June 7, 2020 after protesters called for the realization of the UN Resolution 1559 from 2004 which requires the disarmament of all militias. Several people were wounded. Actually, the nation-wide protests which started in October 2019 due to the dramatically grave economic situation in Lebanon carried the unprecedented feature of cross-sectarian support. However, the demonstrations on June 6, 2020 were thought to be dominated by parties opposing to Hezbollah because some protesters mentioned directly the Shiite militia when they called for its disarmament.  This created a division among the demonstrators because the original aim of the protests was to overcome the sectarian system by chanting “All that mean all”, when it comes to their demand that politicians resign. By doing so, they avoided targetting certain sectarian groupings. Hezbollah and the Christian parties allied with them are getting more and more under pressure due to the economic disaster the small multireligious country is experiencing currently. The economic crisis depicts one of the biggest threats to Lebanon’s stability since the end of the civil war in 1990 and jeopardize its stability. The Lebanese pound lost more than the half of its value in exchange to the US Dollar, the unemployment rate climbed up to approximately 35% and about 45% of the population has to live now below the poverty line. The state’s budget deficit raised to more than 150% of the GDP. While the Lebanese currency remains to be in the free fall, the demonstrations against corruption and sectarianism has continued after the violent clashes of June 7, 2020.

The Inside-Game Of Supply And Demand

The pressure in Hezbollah’s game inside Lebanon is rising. Their long-term coalitions which made it possible for the Shiite militia to dominate the Lebanese political system after 2008 and especially after the elections in 2018, start to crumble. The internal pressure grows because of supply shortages of electricity and food. A blame game about responsibilities has started for example in the electricity field. Sometimes the parties even fall back on somewhat bizarre offers in order to meet the expectation within the patronage system of clientelism. Other times, oppositional parties from the Christian bloc, which were part of the current Lebanese political proportional representation as well, held Hezbollah responsible for the miserable economic situation and questioned their actions in Syria. By taking advantage of inner-sectarian struggles in the Druze community, reigniting unity against Israel among Christian or simply by paying better salaries to converted fighters, Hezbollah sought to extend their influence outside the Shia community in the past. After the 2018 elections the Shiite militia was able to gain a dominant role together with its allied parties. Although Hezbollah showed at least some resources during the Corona Crisis, the US sanctions against Iran continue to influence the budget of the Iran-supported militia. Therefore, Hezbollah’s social services like extra food or other additional subsidies for fighters had to be cut, also amid the corona pandemic. Some analysts say that Hezbollah tries to bypass the manifold crisis in Lebanon with their own parallel systems like the quasi-bank-system “Al-Qard”, an electric generator supply, and by opening towards new products like Marijuana. Moreover, Hannin Ghaddar claims that the Shiite groups seeks to get rid of Nabih Berri, the head of the partially competing and simultaneously partnering Shia party  Amal.  Protests took place in Shia dominated cities and parts of Beirut as well.

Lebanon is very dependent on food imports because, despite of the fertile Beqaa valley, the country is not able to meet the demand of its citizens and the Syrian refugees living in tents. Lebanon continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population, where 1 in 6 people was a refugee (figures from 2018. Just refugees under the mandate of UNHCR, the ones under the mandate of UNRWA are not included). However, importing food with a weak domestic currency entails several obstacles, some prices have already doubled and some importers consider stopping the trading of certain imported products if no profit can be extracted from it. Hezbollah tried to step in this gap by expanding its smuggling activities between Syria and Lebanon and by substituting some imports with cheaper and tax-free imports from Iran. But the militia provides petrol and flour to their Syrian allies who are facing serious economic problems because of the sanction resulting from the US Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. New protests broke out even in as-Suwaysa, a city controlled by Assad because of exploding prices for food. Hezbollah’s Nasrallah lashed out at the USA because of the sanctions. Petrol and flour have been subsidized by the Lebanese state. Despite of that, the smuggling activities now are conducted quite more openly than before with truck convoys using the main roads and in daylight. At the verge of the economic precipice the Lebanese state’s economy is approaching the losses caused by the smuggling are immense. Just recently, talks with the IMF about a potential bailout for Lebanon have started. Hezbollah formally supported the start of talks as a member of the central government, but at the same time warned against conditions which would violate the Lebanese sovereignty.

The Outside-Game Of “Resistance”

Lebanon’s sovereignty is the reason for Hezbollah to remain the only militia after the civil war which have not been disarmed. The so-called „Resistance“ against Israel has built the ideological ground for the Shiite terroristic group since its establishment in the 1980s during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon. Hence, the main source of the legitimacy of Hezbollah’s preeminent role has to be located in the field of foreign politics. Over the years the preeminent role of Hezbollah’s arms within Lebanon created a military dualism and constant power scrambling between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the militia.

The outside-struggles of Hezbollah are continuous. The so-called “resistance” against Israel experienced a peak last year. Several Israeli airstrikes in Syria and in Beirut and skirmishes at the Israeli-Lebanese border, when Hezbollah blew up an armed vehicle of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), erupted after the IDF unveiled material about a missile production place in the Beqaa valley. The Iranian efforts to equip Hezbollah with precision-guided missiles would pose a major threat to Israel’s air defence system because even if the system would shoot down 99 % of the missiles, the remaining ones would hit a target with a very high probability. This led to a serious situation close to war-like confrontations. Both sides had already climbed up the ladder of verbal escalations. Nasrallah denied the existence of such a programme and accused Israel of being aggressive, whereas Israeli officials warned Nasrallah not to put the whole Lebanon at stake by launching an attack against Israel. Since some of the targets and delivering routes from Iran to Hezbollah went through Syria, Russia had to enter the stage to calm down the heat. Though the situation has cooled down compared to the last summer, still several incidences at the border or airstrikes take place. However, both sides try to avoid casualties and thus a large-scale war. The hostility between Hezbollah and Israel is something more than a border conflict. Nasrallah’s perception of the USA and Israel as mutual agents towards each other shows that “resistance” fight is the founding base for the militia. Two regional coalitions clash with each other in Syria. Will the Israeli intelligence be able to distinct flour from weapons in convoys?

“War on Iran is war on all the axis of resistance. War on the Islamic Republic means the entire region will be set on fire.” – Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah made this deterrent vow. Israel und the USA seek to reduce Iran’s influence in Syria. Turkey wants to secure its own influence area against Assad, and it even might have comparable strategic aims against Hezbollah’s influence like Israel has. The USA, Israel and Turkey are against the Assad regime. However, Russia and Hezbollah support the Assad regime together with Iran. It should not be forgotten that the war in Syria went on despite the corona crisis. Yet, maybe Iran and Hezbollah shifted their strategies in the face of the corona pandemic and its financial consequences for Iran and Lebanon. Assad’s regime made a great step towards regaining its territories in Syria. Nonetheless, Assad’s Syria is still on war with Israel, and the US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights have not changed anything about this status and neither did Assad or Israel with negotiations, nor had Assad the resources to engage in escalation with Israel during the war in Syria. Now the two partners in the “axis of resistance” have to figure out the next steps with the Assad regime, while Syria’s economic situation is rapidly deteriorating. Israeli and American sources claimed that Iranian forces have retreated from Syria.

Hassan Nasrallah indeed declared the threat of a “great war” against Israel during the speech on the 20th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, however, he also gave the priority to the still fighting armed groups in Syria. The formal approval of talks with the IMF can be interpreted so as Hezbollah and Iran are missing the financial potential to bring up an alternative for Lebanon’s state finances. In the same announcement on TV Nasrallah addressed domestic problems inside Lebanon like for instance fighting corruption. Nevertheless, it is important to recap Hezbollah’s internal activities in Lebanon based on parallel structures partially competing with the Lebanese state which include smuggling or corruptive clientelism. These networks are challenged by the corona crisis and the devasting economic situation. Would it be surprising if Hezbollah return to its foundational ideology of “resistance” by acting out the resistance outside Lebanon instead of trying to solve structural problems inside the country Hezbollah are part of themselves? The militia’s aim is to preserve the current status quo which secures their legitimacy. It is for this reason that the group has become hostile against the protests.

Conclusion

Inside Lebanon several regional and external actors assert their influence on Lebanese politics. Among them are the two regional rivals: Iran and Saudi-Arabia. Therefore, an almost constant struggle for power balances between sectarian groups marks the Lebanese history – amongst them the two prominent ones: Iranian-supported Hezbollah and Hariri’s alliance backed by Saudi-Arabia. This is nothing new. Hezbollah is playing an inside-outside-game with Lebanon. The Shiite party and terroristic group is gambling on two fields: inside Lebanon within the government and outside Lebanon with fights against Israel and others in the face of the looming risk of war due to a single error. Polls of 2019 show, how the Lebanese people perceive the situation: on the one hand, the vast majority of them consider Israel the greatest threat; on the other hand, the three most important challenges in the eyes of the Lebanese are the economy, corruption and public services, and not foreign interference. The news of 2020 are a stand-off with Israel, an unsure situation in Syria, a devasting economic situation amid the pandemic and huge cross-sectarian protests on the streets of Lebanon. These developments challenge Hezbollah’s internal and external influence currently conducted by means of deterrence, providing services and clientelism. If these means fail, one major strategic asset will remain for Hezbollah against their competitors inside and outside of Lebanon. They are armed.

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Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum: Crucial Decisions in Difficult Times

Mohamad Zreik

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The ninth session of the Ministerial Meeting of the Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum was held on the sixth of July. The meeting took place through live broadcasts due to the unstable global health situation as a result of the pandemic. It was a successful meeting rich in firm decisions, and the following documents were agreed upon: “Amman Declaration”, “Executive Program of the Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum 2020-2022” and “Joint Statement of China and Arab Countries Solidarity in Fighting Pneumonia caused by Corona Virus”.

This session touched on security, political and health issues of mutual interest. The “Amman Declaration” has denounced the Israeli attacks that do not stop against the sovereignty of Palestine; it is an expression of an official Arab-Chinese rejection of Israel’s attempt to annex any other part of the Palestinian territories and dissatisfaction with Israel’s hostile policies against the Palestinian people. This document is an expression of the permanent Chinese endeavor to achieve international peace and security (which is the highest goal that neutral countries and international organizations, especially the United Nations, praise). The Amman Declaration cannot be classified as a Chinese bias alongside the Arabs. China pursues a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and respects the sovereignty of its international partners, and Israel is a huge economic and trade partner of China in West Asia.

Therefore, the “Amman Declaration” is a Chinese political tool to stop Israeli attacks. In this context, I remember the Sudanese issue. At a time when the world boycotted the government of President al-Bashir and was classified as a terrorist, China did not break its ties with him. Rather, it sought to make peace in Sudan and stop fighting. Some described this incident as direct Chinese interference in internal Sudanese affairs, however, this intervention was in the interest of the Sudanese people and in the service of international peace and security, as is the issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict. China raises its tone to ease the dispute, not the other way around. Another example, when many international groups branded Myanmar (formerly Burma) a terrorist state that assaults Muslims, China was making tremendous efforts and was almost the only international actor to make peace and create an atmosphere of harmony, so the “Amman Declaration” is a new Chinese step in the path of international peace and security.

The Chinese delegation affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. China is always on the side of the oppressed peoples. Although China is an ally of the Assad regime in Syria, it has never stopped standing with the Syrian people with self-determination, freedom and human dignity. From this standpoint, Chinese diplomacy has never worked contrary to its principles, as the People’s Republic of China has been and will continue to be on the side of the Palestinian people, which is a priority for the Chinese. China has called for the enhancement of the Arab-Chinese relations and pushed them forward and to use all legitimate means to develop this relationship. The Arab region is important for the Chinese, due to the great Chinese dependence on Arab oil and other natural resources, as well as the important and huge market for the disposal of Chinese goods.

The distinguished geographical location of the Arab region constitutes a commercial and economic link between East and West. The Arab region contributes to establishing new markets for China in the world, and this region may turn to be a hub for Chinese trade, regardless of the obstacle of the US military presence. The Arab countries are an important political partner of the Chinese government and a key supporter of “One China” in international forums.

I would like to touch here on the issue of Xinjiang. The Western and other anti-China media have sought to promote a propaganda “aimed at tarnishing the image of the Chinese government and portraying it as being against Islam and Muslims in China”. The United States supports this campaign under the pretext of defending the rights of Muslims as it claims, but the irony is that the United States has a bloody history against Arab and Muslim peoples everywhere, and the US regime has committed the most heinous crimes against Muslims, it is the summer and winter policy under one roof. Surprisingly, the Arab governments did not submit to this dirty game. Rather, the Sino-Arab relations became stronger and the majority of the Arab people were not in a position to accept the Western campaigns against the Chinese government. This position has shocked the West and all those who harbor hostility to China. The Chinese soft power has succeeded in the face of the military machine and western greed. Is it reasonable for the Algerian people to forget the revolution of the million martyrs? Will African peoples forget their slavery and treatment on the basis of inferiority? Will the Arabs forget the treachery of the Westerners since the Sykes-Picot agreement and the accompanying Zionist occupation and wars against oil and others?

The Arab region has a prominent role in the Belt and Road initiative, “The Economic Belt and the Maritime Road”, given the strategic location of the Arab region linking Eurasia, Mediterranean Europe and Africa, as well as the sea lanes that are part of the initiative. Arab natural resources are the engine for this initiative. Chinese consumption of Arab natural resources will increase dramatically with this initiative, according to Chinese officials. Members hailed the Chinese efforts made to strengthen the ties of the Arab-Chinese partnership, which supports the progress of the Belt and Road Initiative. Concerning Arab and regional situation, China has called for dialogue and resort to international resolutions and agreements in order to end conflicts and create an atmosphere of calm and stability. China has always advocated peace and dialogue as an economic partner of Arab countries and governments, and it is not inclined to be an international arms factory or a promoter of wars and discord in order to establish armament deals; on the contrary, China is absolutely opposed to wars and the use of weapons, and this is not in the interest of China’s overseas opponents. Also, China has assured that it will be the protector of the unity and sovereignty of the Arab countries. It has openly called for no division of Yemen, Syria or Libya among others.

Emphasis has been placed on adopting the executive program of the Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum 2020-2022, which strengthens the strategic partnership between China and the Arabs, and which is in the common economic and political interest. On the other hand, the Arab countries have been and will continue to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, refusing to establish relations with Taiwan and denouncing separatist religious and nationalist groups. The Arabs always affirm the principle of one country with two systems followed by China in Hong Kong, and the two sides agree to support and protect minorities in the Arab region and China. In this context, the Chinese invited Arab officials to visit Xinjiang to inspect it closely and to learn about the Chinese policy followed in this region. In China, many concessions are granted to Muslim and other minorities in China, in addition to the freedom to practice religious rites. The Chinese have gone to Arab officials to promote Arab-Iranian relations, support the policy of good-neighborliness, non-interference in internal affairs, and resolve disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

It was confirmed that the decision of US President Donald Trump to grant the Syrian Arab Golan to Israel was rejected, as it is a blatant attack on international charters and laws, Israel was also called upon to withdraw from the Golan and the occupied territories to the line of June 4, 1967, in accordance with Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 497. Israel was also called upon to withdraw from the occupied Lebanese territories and to stop violating the land, sea, and air sovereignty of Lebanon, which could have serious consequences that might not be commended. China contributes to Lebanon’s security and stability by participating in the international peacekeeping forces operating in southern Lebanon.

China has supported Lebanon in the most difficult circumstances, and today China reaffirms its readiness to stand firmly on the side of the government and the people in Lebanon, at a time when many countries have abandoned Lebanon for political interests and considerations, but China has remained steadfast in its positions and has not changed its policy towards Lebanon. In light of the financial crisis that Lebanon is going through, China announced that it will not abandon its partnership with Lebanon, and considered that Lebanon is a host for Palestinian and Syrian refugees, and this will not change from the right to resort to settlement.

The convening of the Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum in this unstable international circumstance is a message in itself on the strength and strength of Arab-Chinese relations. This relationship has become a role model for international cooperation against all odds. Some groups seek to stir up discord between Arabs and Chinese under the pretexts of religion and human rights, but both sides demonstrated the amount of awareness and sufficient and great insight that drove the progress of this relationship despite all the difficulties. Many reports indicate that China has a promising future in the Arab region and this partnership will have a distinctive position.

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AKP and the Evolution of a New Brand of Populism in Turkish Politics

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Authors: Nadeem Ahmed Moonakal and Dr.Nanda Kishor*

The rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey has had several impacts on Turkish politics and Turkey’s foreign policy outlook. The political situation in Turkey today is largely dominated by the AKP. The recent conversion of UNESCO world heritage site Hagia Sophia into a mosque was one of the election promises made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His decision indicates AKP’s appeal to the people and the populism it resorts to with an assertion of religious pride and nationalism.

AKP’s initial rise in Turkish politics should be observed in conjunction with the context in which it came to prominence. The 2001 economic crisis of Turkey is recorded as one of the worst economic crises the country faced ever since World War II. Throughout the 1990’s Turkish economy largely relied upon foreign investments for economic growth. Since the government was already facing budget deficits it lacked the financial means to address the crisis. The political instability that was prevalent in the 1990s in Turkey became another factor for many foreign investors to reconsider their investment plans in Turkey. 

Several foreign business enterprises also withdrew billions of dollars during this period and it reflected in the dramatic plunging of the Turkish economy. However, the existing government pushed for several neoliberal policies that also opened the doors for privatization. Turkish economy faced serious challenges concerning its fragile banking sector and poor macroeconomic performance. This also largely led to the currency crisis. The country faced economic turmoil however some of the structural economic reforms and a successful debt-swap helped the country recover and improve investor confidence.

After the collapse of the fragile alliances, a new party came into prominence which changed the political landscape of Turkey significantly. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 with Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the Prime Minister of the country. The election reflected a clear discontentment and dissatisfaction of people for the traditional political parties. The newly formed government absorbed the direction set by the predecessor and accentuated its efforts in further transforming the economy with neoliberal measures. The government also privatized state-owned enterprises and became more assertive in implementing these measures amid political oppositions and criticisms. The economy grew rapidly during 2003-2007 however the 2008 global economic crisis slowed down the growth. A year later the country showed positive signs of economic growth although in the later years the economic crisis and the corruption allegations did cause severe discontentment towards the government.

Some of the researches have shown that AKP voters are relatively less educated than the Republican People’s Party (CHP) voters. The traditional voter base of AKP also relies much on the lower-middle-class of the society whose income levels are just below the national average. AKP also receives a critical share of votes from people who identify themselves as religious conservatives. Evaluating the recent trends, it is clear that Erdogan is more conservative in terms of religious traditions and societal norms and values whereas liberal in economic measures which the AKP inherited to an extent from the early 2000 economic reforms in Turkey.

What AKP under the leadership of Erdogan also has managed to do overtime isto create a social assistance system that has received significant popularity among economically weaker sections. One of the most popular slogans from Erdogan’s election campaigns rightly captures the perception AKP has built around Erdogan. ‘Milletin Adamı Erdoğan’ (People’s Man Erdogan) resonates with the larger aspirations of the party to project Erdogan as the leader of the common people. However, there is much pressure on Erdogan now with rising unemployment rates and new challenges from his own traditional voter base. The reaction to incidents like protests post-Soma mine disaster indicates Erdogan’s intolerance towards dissent. Crackdown on protests and dissent has become a severe concern as the government now is vying for more control over social networking websites and apps as well.

The conditions for the rise of a populist leader remain conducive in contemporary Turkish politics. With high levels of unemployment, poverty, and religious conservatism– some populist appeal still can attract certain sections of Turkish society. With the foreign policy adventures of Erdogan and his with his strong anti-Israel stance he has also managed to garner wider popularity in the Muslim world. Hence, despite Erdogan’s decrease in vote share over several elections, the Milletin Adamı remains very popular not just in Turkey but among several Muslim societies across the Middle East and South Asia.

The democratic backsliding witnessed specifically in AKP and in the state as such may not sustain for a long time. The concept of Laiklik (Secularism) which served Turkey for a long time being sidelined will further push it to be branded as a religious fundamentalist state and an autocratic one worldwide. Unlike the understanding of AKP that existed till 2013 along with the Gülen Movement with a friendly approach towards the Western Powers, Erdogan has taken anti-Western move by playing to the gallery of Islamist groups such as Naqshbendi, İsmailağa, and Menzil. His policies were not impressive enough to steer through the economic and political challenges in 2019. CHP managed to win the elections in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. Istanbul’s new mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is seen as a serious threat to Erdoğan. Apart from these, 2019 September also saw defection within AKP by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and their followers. This is precisely the reason why Erdogan thinks religion as a soft power that has the strength to cement his hard power.

The foreign policy challenges to Erdogan are manifold. Turkey’s role in Syria and Libya has been challenged in the region. Failure of any of these would give teeth for the opposition to further challenge him. His blackmailing of the European Union on the refugee issue may not work in the long run. After locking horns with the United States for over ten months, there seems to be some temporary respite with Erdogan and Trump both making certain amendments to their behavior. However, at the backdrop of the conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque, the US expressed its “disappointment” in its statement. With respect to the situation in Libya, the US sees a faceoff between Turkey and Russia as Turkey supports the Fayez al-Sarraj government whereas Russia backs Khalifa Haftar with weapons. Egypt is gearing up for a showdown with its partners and allies against Turkey in the Mediterranean and warming up ties with Iran and Qatar may not help Turkey economically.

AKP faces serious economic challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic. While Turkey is now entangled in the conflict in Libya and AKP faces dissent within the party, Erdogan has taken refuge in religion once again and aspires to get the support from the conservative Muslim factions in Turkey and the Muslim societies in the larger Islamic world. The populism he and his party are resorting to indicate elements of an authoritarian regime. This can also cater to the arguments put up by scholars pointing out that political Islam often exhibits a high incidence of authoritarianism. Turkey was seen as a light in leading the Middle East reform movements after World War I. However, in recent years, that credibility is being destroyed brick by brick by Erdogan’s populism. The idea of using religion to ‘control’, ‘eliminate’, and ‘subjugate’ the society is leading to ideological hegemony that would threaten the very foundations of the modern Turkish republic envisaged by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

*Dr.Nanda Kishor is an Associate Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India. His area of experience and expertise lies in the geopolitics of the Middle East and South Asia. 

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