Luke Baker, Reuters, May 17, 2006
JERUSALEM — In the 58 years since its founding, few issues have stalked the state of Israel like demographics — the fear that Arabs may some day outnumber Jews.
Responding to an issue that Jews often refer to as “the demographic threat”, a non-profit Jewish group is encouraging poor, pregnant Jewish women who might be considering having an abortion to go ahead and have a child instead.
Set up 29 years ago by Eli Schussheim, a surgeon, the Efrat organisation offers women $1,000 of support for a year, including diapers, a crib and baby clothes, if they decide to give birth rather than terminate their pregnancies.
It is one of a range of groups whose guiding principle is to prop up Israel’s Jewish population amid statistics showing that the Arab birthrate is twice that of Jewish families.
According to government figures, Israel’s population is just over seven million people, three-quarters of whom are Jewish.
But the Arab minority, about a fifth of the population, is growing rapidly, as are Palestinian communities under Israeli occupation. Some projections say Arabs will be a majority in Israel and the West Bank by 2020 unless action is taken.
“The demographic situation is getting worse all the time,” says Schussheim, 64, who was born and raised in Argentina.
“Every child we can save makes a difference.”
Schussheim says he started the organisation shortly after changes were made to Israel’s abortion laws in the late 1970s.
While he considers himself “pro-choice”, he says too many Jewish women end up making the wrong choice because of economic hardship and terminate their pregnancies.