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Demographic Issues

Demographic issues can be defined as those that affect (or have the potential to affect) the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Within this category are three major issues - Aliyah (Jewish immigration) to Israel; rights of the minority citizens of Israel; and the question of the Palestinians. The 'Demographic Question' has played a large role in the public discourse over the past number of years and has been used as one of the supporting arguments for the Disengagement and for future unilateral withdrawals. Many proponents of Disengagement argue that Israel must remove itself from areas heavily populated by Arabs to ensure the continued Jewish and democratic nature of Israeli society.

Israeli population by group, sex and age.
Click to view larger image.

As a fundamental tenet of the Jewish State, most political parties are ardent supporters of Aliyah. 2005 saw the largest number of North American olim to Israel in well over twenty years, a positive trend that is likely to continue with the help of Nefesh b'Nefesh and other pro-Aliyah groups.

Some of the religious parties would like to see Israel's Law of Return amended to prevent the influx of non-Jewish immigrants who take advantage of the legislation's loose interpretation of "who is a Jew." These parties argue that many immigrants are simply escaping from a bad situation to enjoy Israel's relatively good standard of living. By allowing the establishment of a large non-Jewish immigrant population, the parties claim, Israel is inadvertently fueling the demise of its own Jewish character as expressed by holiday observances, traditions and culture. In addition, the non-Jewish immigrant population poses challenges to religious councils that oversee lifecycle events such as birth, marriage, death and burial.

Although only 18% of Israel's population, minorities have played a pivotal role in past Israeli elections. The large Arab Israeli population has three Arab parties vying for their mandates. In addition, major left-wing parties such as Labor and Meretz also fight for the "Arab" vote. Minority relations have been strained as a result of the Intifada. The Arab population deeply empathizes with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, there have been instances in which Israeli Arabs have carried out or played a critical role in assisting suicide bombers reach their civilian targets. The death of 13 Israeli Arabs during riots following the outbreak of the Intifada in 2000 has also negatively impacted the Arab Israelis' relationship with the State. Israel affords full rights to minority citizens and they enjoy the same rights as the Jewish citizenry.

In the absence of a peace agreement, many are concerned that the Palestinian population may grow to pose a demographic threat to Israel's character as a Jewish State. Indeed, the primary impetus for parties on the far Left, such as Meretz, in pushing for a Palestinian state is to safeguard Israel's Jewish and democratic nature. If Israel were forced to rule the Palestinians for coming decades, these parties fear that Israel will have to forfeit either its Jewish character or democratic system of government - neither an attractive option.

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