Israel is a small country, often described as “the size of New Jersey.” With a population of about 9 million, it also has about as many people as the Garden State. Currently, Israel’s population is heavily concentrated in the metropolitan areas in the center and north of the country, with vast swaths of desert land much less populated.
Israel’s population is growing at a remarkably rapid rate, prompting an interesting analysis by Meirav Arlosoroff in Haaretz last week, in which she analyzed whether Israel “is up for the challenge” of anticipated population growth in the coming decades.
Israel’s natural growth rate is 3.1 children per woman, compared to 1.7 in other developed countries. According to Arlosoroff, “Israel is on track to become not just the most densely crowded nation among the developed countries, but the most crowded of all the 180 nations on Earth, with the exception of Bangladesh.” Which begs the question: Will Israel be able to sustain developing-nation-level population growth while maintaining a first-world standard of living? The answer is not simple.
In 2017, Israel issued a National Strategic Housing Plan that calls for 2.6 million apartments planned and 1.5 million apartments built by 2040, when Israel’s population will be an estimated 13.2 million. According to Arlosoroff, the plan was on track in 2020, although the pace of construction has lagged. But housing is not the only issue. “Overcrowded classrooms, exceedingly long waits for emergency care, the overflow of patients in hospitals, the perpetual traffic jams, court proceedings that are delayed for months and years and jam-packed crowds at nature sites on weekends and holidays” are all potential concerns with a booming population. And, of course, there are worries about water use, pollution and environmental degradation, which would also be exacerbated.
If the quality of life and standard of living in Israel drops, will that lead to an exodus of Israel’s best and brightest looking for a more stable life? At the current growth rate, Israel could more than double its current population to 20 million by 2060, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. And while most communities, including Israel’s Muslim community, are seeing a drop in births, no such trend is apparent in Israel’s haredi community, where average births per woman remain at seven.
The Arlosoroff article helps put to rest the image of a struggling Israel that for decades looked like it lacked the critical mass to survive in the long term. Instead, the projected extended growth spurt brings new challenges. Fortunately, Israel is also a land of ingenuity, creativity and stunning practicality. With proper planning, and a reality-driven commitment to manage anticipated population growth, we have every confidence that the land of milk and honey will continue to flourish as it harnesses available resources and talent to elevate and serve its entire population.