If Likud Knesset Member Meir Cohen-Avidov has his way, the coming Hebrew year, 5747, will be proclaimed the year of “internal immigration.” Cohen-Avidov wants 100,000 extra Jewish babies to be born in Israel.
These infants, Cohen-Avidov insists, would offset the demographic decline in the Diaspora, and also help Israeli Jews “keep up with Israeli Arabs, who have much larger families.”
Inasmuch as having babies is not a matter of “keeping up with the Joneses,” fellow Likud M.K. Sara Doron accused Cohen-Avidov of trying to turn women into “birth machines.” There were similar remarks from most of the other women in Knesset. Satirist Yoel Marcus, writing in Ha’aretz, proposed “a complete ban on the import of contraceptives (which would also save dollars, be noted); evening public service ads on TV showing, in graphic detail, just how to make babies. They would be followed by an erotic film and then, at least two or three times a week by a sudden electricity blackout, which, if the New York experience is any guide, would lead to an upsurge in births nine months later.”
Cohen-Avidov believes patriotic and economic motivations will cause an increase in births: for example, he suggests free day-care centers, university education and bus transportation for every third child. But these actions seem unlikely given current budgetary pressures.
Nechemia Meyers comments in The Jewish Floridian that “even if these measures were put into effect, they would have only a small influence on potential parents. Israelis, like people elsewhere in the West, see a clear link between small families and social economic advancement. Oriental Jewish couples, who 30 years ago were likely to have five or six children, now tend to follow the pattern of European Jews and have two or three. This accounts for the fact that the average births per Jewish woman declined from over 3.5 in 1950-53 to 2.8 in 1979-83. A similar decline has occurred, incidentally, among Christian Arabs, a more Westernized group than their Muslim brethren.
“One segment of the Jewish population, the ultra-Orthodox, still have large families. A recent survey of such families in Jerusalem by the Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies showed an average of seven children per family.”