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Jon Anson and Alex Akinade Ajayi

While global fertility rates are experiencing a downward trend, in Israel they remain consistently and substantially higher than that exhibited in countries with similar, or even lower, standards of living and socio-economic profile. A number of explanations have been cited for this anomaly, including Israel’s strong family-centred ethos; the high levels of religiosity in the country; the country’s heterogeneity; and the Arab and Middle East origins of a large section of the population. None of these explanations, however, will stand up to critical scrutiny. Instead, we suggest that Israel’s high fertility derives from its special situation as a contested territory, between Arabs (Palestinians) and Jews, and between Jews of different origins. Religion, and religiosity, under these circumstances, act as vehicles of group identity, and fertility the battleground on which inter-group tensions are played out. We elucidate this interpretation through a summary of historical and contemporary fertility patterns.