Anti-abortion group seeks to keep Israel Jewish
By Luke Baker
Wed May 17, 11:06 AM ET
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - 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 organization 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 organization 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.
According to government figures, about 22,000 abortions are performed in Israel each year but Efrat believes the numbers are more than double that if unofficial terminations are included.
"Since the founding of the state of Israel, more than one million Jewish children have been lost," says Tzvi Binn, a spokesman who helps raise funds for Efrat in the United States.
"It's a constant struggle to maintain the Jewishness of the state, but saving Jewish lives helps us in that struggle."
Whereas attacks by militants killed an average of one person a week in Israel last year, and car crashes nine people every seven days, Efrat says 900 babies a week were aborted.
"Imagine how much stronger Israel would have been demographically today with one million more Jews," the organization says on its website, www.friendsofefrat.org.
"Supporting Efrat is the most direct way one can strengthen Israel and the Jewish people."
Efrat does not offer its services to Israeli Arabs, many of whom say they feel like second class citizens in Israel.
The group, which last year gave financial support to 1,806 women, calls what it does an "inner Aliyah" in reference to the process Jews make when they decide to move to live in Israel.
More than half its funding now comes from the United States, mostly from synagogues, but there is growing support from evangelical Christian groups and others opposed to abortion.
Schussheim says he is not so concerned about where the money comes from, just as long as Jewish babies are born.
"Even if we had 10 million Jews here and there wasn't a demographic problem, I would still do it," he says.
"In 29 years, I haven't had one case where a woman said she regretted it."
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