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|Regions with significant populations|
|Israel||6,135,000[a] (April 2014)|
75.0% of the Israeli population
|United States||106,839 – 500,000|
|Canada||10,755 – 30,000|
|spoken languages|
Modern Israeli Hebrew, English, Russian
|Related ethnic groups|
|Ashkenazi Jews · Sephardic Jews · Mizrahi Jews · Beta Israel|
and other Jewish ethnic divisions
|Regions with significant populations|
|Israel||6,135,000[a] (April 2014)|
75.0% of the Israeli population
|United States||106,839 – 500,000|
|Canada||10,755 – 30,000|
|spoken languages|
Modern Israeli Hebrew, English, Russian
|Related ethnic groups|
|Ashkenazi Jews · Sephardic Jews · Mizrahi Jews · Beta Israel|
and other Jewish ethnic divisions
Israeli Jews (Hebrew: יהודים ישראלים, Yehudim Yisraelim), also known as Jewish Israelis, can refer to:
Israeli Jews are found mostly in Israel and the Western world, as well as many other countries worldwide, not necessarily only in Jewish communities. Israeli Jews mostly speak Hebrew and most follow at least some religious Jewish practices. Israel, the Jewish state, currently has almost half the world's Jews.
The Jewish community in Israel is composed from all Jewish ethnic divisions, including Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Beta Israel, Bene Israel, Yemeni Jews, Karaites, and many other groups. The Israeli Jewish community manifests a wide range of Jewish cultural traditions, as well as encompassing the full spectrum of religious observance, from the Haredi communities to the Hilonim Jewish communities who live a secular lifestyle. The population consists of many ethnic groups, with 61% of Israeli Jews having Mizrahi Jewish ancestry as of 2005.
Despite the ongoing debate over the question of who is a Jew among Israeli Jews, the Jewish status of a person, which is considered a matter of 'nationality' by the Israeli authorities, is registered and controlled by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, which requires a person to meet the halakhic definition to be registered as a 'Jew'. Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the Israeli Jewish population was 6,135,000 as of April 2014 (75.0% of the total population).
Jews living in the region prior to the establishment of the State of Israel are commonly referred to in English as Palestinian Jews and in Hebrew as "HaYishuv HaYehudi Be'Eretz Yisra'el (The Jewish Community in the Land of Israel).
Jews have long considered Palestine to be their homeland, even while living in the diaspora. According to the Hebrew Bible the connection to the Land of Israel began in The covenant of the pieces when the region, which it called the land of Canaan, was promised to Abraham by God. Abraham settled in the region, where his son Isaac and grandson Jacob grew up with and their families. Later on, Jacob and his sons went to Egypt. Decades later their descendants were led out of Egypt by Moses and Aaron, given the Tablets of Stone, returned to the land of Canaan and conquered it under the leadership of Joshua. After the period of the judges, in which the Israelites did not have an organized leadership, the Kingdom of Israel was established, which constructed the first temple. This kingdom was soon split into two—the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel. After the destruction of these kingdoms and the destruction of the first Temple, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon. After about 70 years parts of the Israelites were permitted to return to the region and soon thereafter they built the Second Temple. Later on they established the Hasmonean Kingdom. The region was conquered by the Roman Empire in 63 BC. During the 2nd century CE a series of rebellions against the Roman Empire ended up with the destruction of the second temple and a general expulsion of Jews from their homeland.
The area was later conquered from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) by the Muslim Caliphate in the 7th century. Throughout the centuries the size of Jewish population in the land fluctuated. Before the birth of modern Zionism, by the early 19th century, more than 10,000 Jews were still living in the area that is today's Israel.
Following centuries of Diaspora, the 19th century saw the rise of Zionism, the Jewish Nationalist Movement, a desire to see the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine, and significant immigration. Zionism remained a minority movement until the rise of Nazism in 1933 and the subsequent attempted extermination of the Jewish people in Nazi occupied areas of Europe in the Holocaust. In the late 19th century large numbers of Jews began moving to the Turkish and later British-controlled region. In 1917, the British endorsed a National Home for Jews in Mandate Palestine by passing the Balfour Declaration. The Jewish population in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940
In 1937, following the Great Arab Revolt, the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission was rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership, but accepted tentatively by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion. As a result, in 1939, the British caved to Arab pressure because of support needed for World War II, abandoned the idea of a Jewish national homeland, and abandoned partition and negotiations in favour of the unilaterally-imposed White Paper of 1939, which capped Jewish immigration, and put subject to review under further agreement with the Arabs. Its other stated policy was to establish a system under which both Jews and Arabs were to share one government. The policy was viewed as a significant defeat for the Jewish side as it placed severe restrictions on Jewish immigration, while placing no restriction on Arab immigration.
In 1947, following increasing levels of violence, the British government withdrew from Mandatory Palestine. The 1947 UN Partition Plan split the mandate into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about 56% of Mandatory Palestine to the Jewish state. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish State and launched a guerrilla war.
On May 14, 1948, one day before the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine led by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, made a declaration of independence, of the State of Israel though without any reference to defined borders.
Hoping to annihilate the new Jewish state, the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq invaded the territory partitioned for the Arab state, thus starting the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The nascent Israeli Defense Force repulsed the Arab nations from part of the occupied territories, thus extending its borders beyond the original UNSCOP partition. By December 1948, Israel controlled most of the portion of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River. The remainder of the Mandate consisted of Jordan, the area that came to be called the West Bank (controlled by Jordan), and the Gaza Strip (controlled by Egypt). Prior to and during this conflict, 711,000 Palestinians Arabs fled their original lands to become Palestinian refugees. The reasons for this are disputed, and range from claims that the major cause of Palestinian flight was military actions by the Israeli Defence Force and fear of events such as Deir Yassin to an encouragement to leave by Arab leaders so that they could return when the war was won.
Most Israeli Jews refer to the 1948 Arab–Israeli War as the War of Independence, while most of the Arab citizens of Israel refer to it as the Nakba (catastrophe), a reflection of differences in perception of the purpose and outcomes of the war.
Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within one year of its independence. Over the following years approximately 850,000 Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews fled or were expelled from surrounding mostly due persecution in Arab countries, and in smaller numbers from Turkey, India, Afghanistan, and Iran. Of these, about 680,000 settled in Israel (see also Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries).
Israel's Jewish population continued to grow at a very high rate for years, fed by waves of Jewish immigration from round the world, most notably the massive immigration wave of Soviet Jews, which arrived to Israel in the early 1990s following the dissolution of the USSR, who, according to the Law of Return, were entitled to become Israeli citizens upon arrival. About 380,000 arrived in 1990–1991 alone. At the same time some 80,000–100,000 Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel since the early 1980s.
Since 1948, Israel has been involved in a series of major military conflicts, including the 1956 Suez War, 1967 Six-Day War, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon War, and 2006 Lebanon War, as well as a nearly constant series of ongoing minor conflicts. Israel has been also embroiled in an ongoing conflict with the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories, which have been under Israeli control since the Six Day War in 1967, despite the signing of the Oslo Accords on September 13, 1993, and the ongoing efforts of Israeli, Palestinian and global peacemakers.
According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, as of February 2013, of Israel's 8 million people, 75.4% were Jews of any background. Among them, 68% were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel)—22% from Europe and the Americas, and 10% from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries. Nearly half of all Israeli Jews are descended from Jews who made aliyah from Europe, while around the same number are descended from Jews who made aliyah from Arab countries, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia. Over two hundred thousand are, or are descended from, Ethiopian and Indian Jews.
Israel is the only country in the world with a consistently growing Jewish population due to natural population increase unlike the Jewish communities in the Diaspora in which the Jewish population in general is either declining or steady, with the exception of the Orthodox and Haredi Jewish communities around the world, whose members often shun birth control for religious reasons, have experienced rapid population growth. Haredi women have 7.7 children on average while the average Israeli Jewish women has over 3 children.
When Israel was first established in 1948, it had the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after the United States and Soviet Union. In the 1970s, Israel surpassed the Soviet Union as having the second-largest Jewish population. In 2003, The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported that Israel had surpassed the United States as the nation with the world's largest Jewish population. The report was contested by Professor Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Considered the greatest demographic expert on Jews, Della Pergola said it would take another three years to close the gap. In January 2006, Della Pergola that Israel now had more Jews than the United States, and Tel Aviv had replaced New York as the metropolitan area with the largest Jewish population in the world, while a major demographic study found that Israel's Jewish population surpassed that of the United States in 2008. Due to the decline of Diaspora Jewry as a result of intermarriage and assimilation, along with the steady growth of the Israeli Jewish population, it has been speculated that within about 20 years, most of the world's Jews will live in Israel. In March 2012, the Israeli Census Bureau of Statistics reported on behalf of Ynet has forecast that in 2019, Israel will be home to 6,940,000 Jews, 5.84 million which are non-haredi Jews living in Israel, compared with 5.27 million in 2009. The number is expected to grow to anywhere between 6.09 million and 9.95 million by 2059, marking a 16%-89% increase with the 2011 population. The Bureau also forecasts that the ultra-Orthodox population will number 1.1 million people by 2019, compared with 750,000 in 2009. By 2059, the projected Haredi Jewish population is estimated to between 2.73 million and 5.84 million, marking a 264%-686% increase. Thus the total projected Israeli Jewish population by 2059 is estimated to between 8.82 million and 15.790 million. In January 2013, it was reported by the Jerusalem Post that the projected population of Israeli Jews is expected to reach between 7.4 to 9.3 million by the year 2035.
|1936 estimate||> 400,000|
|Rank||District||Total Jewish Population|
|2||Tel Aviv District||1,210,000||99%|
|7||Judea and Samaria Area||304,569||~15–20%|
|2||Tel Aviv||393,900||91.4%||Tel Aviv District|
|4||Rishon Lezion||227,600||93.9%||Center District|
|6||Petah Tikva||197,800||92.5%||Center District|
|9||Holon||172,400||92.8%||Tel Aviv District|
|10||Bnei Brak||155,600||98.6%||Tel Aviv District|
|11||Ramat Gan||135,300||95.2%||Tel Aviv District|
|12||Bat Yam||128,900||84.9%||Tel Aviv District|
|15||Herzliya||85,300||96.3%||Tel Aviv District|
For statistical purposes, there are three main metropolitan areas in Israel. The majority of the Jewish population in Israel is located in the central area of Israel within the Metropolitan area of Tel Aviv. The Metropolitan area of Tel Aviv is currently the largest Jewish population center in the world.
|Rank||Metropolitan Area||Total Population|
|1||Metropolitan area of Tel Aviv||3,206,400||3,043,500||94.9%|
|2||Metropolitan area of Haifa||1,021,000||719,500||70.5%|
|3||Metropolitan area of Beersheba||559,700||356,000||63.6%|
It has been argued that Jerusalem, Israel's proclaimed capital and largest city with a population of 732,100, and an urban area with a population of over 1,000,000 (including 280,000 Palestinian East Jerusalemites who are not Israeli citizens), with over 700,000 Israeli Jews and Nazareth with a population of 65,500, and an urban area of nearly 200,000 people of which over 110,000 are Israeli Jews should also be classified as metropolitan areas.
By the time the State of Israel was proclaimed, the majority of Jews in the state and the region were Ashkenazi. Following the declaration of the state, a flood of Jewish migrants and refugees entered Israel—both from Europe and America and also from Arab and Muslim countries. Most of the Jewish immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s were Jewish Holocaust survivors, as well as Sephardic Jews and Mizrahi Jews (mostly Moroccan Jews, Algerian Jews, Tunisian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Bukharan Jews, Persian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Kurdish Jews, and smaller communities, principally from Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Egypt, India, Turkey and Afghanistan). In recent decades other Jewish communities have also immigrated to Israel including Ethiopian Jews, Russian Jews and Bnei Menashe.
Among Israeli Jews, 72% are Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel)—19% from Europe, Americas and Oceania, and 9% from Asia and Africa, mostly the Muslim world.
The Israeli government does not trace the ethnic origin of Israeli Jews.
|Country of origin||Born|
|Latin America, other||26,900||17,000||43,900||0.8%|
In Israel there are approximately 300,000 citizens with Jewish ancestry who are not Jewish according to Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law. Of this number approximately 10% are Christian and 89% are either Jewish or non-religious. The total number of conversions under the Nativ program of IDF was 640 in 2005 and 450 in 2006. From 2002 to 2007 October 1, a total of 2,213 soldiers have converted under Nativ. In 2003, 437 Christians converted to Judaism; in 2004, 884; and in 2005, 733. Recently several thousand conversions conducted by the Chief Rabbinate under the leadership of Rabbi Chaim Drukman have been annulled, and the official Jewish status over several thousand people who converted through the conversion court of the Chief Rabbinate since 1999 hangs in limbo as the proceedings continue regarding these individuals Jewish status. The vast majority of these individuals are former Soviet Union immigrants.
In his book from 2001 "The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Culture and Military in Israel", the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling identified and divided the modern Israeli society into seven population groups (seven subcultures): The secular upper-middle class group, the national religious group, the traditionalist Mizrahim group, the Orthodox religious group, the Arab citizens of Israel, the Russian immigrants group and the Ethiopian immigrants group. According to Kimmerling, each of these population groups have distinctive characteristics, such as place of resident, consumption patterns, education systems, communications media and more.
Today, Jews whose family immigrated from European countries and the Americas, on their paternal line, constitute the largest single group among Israeli Jews and consist of about 3,000,000 people living in Israel. About 1,200,000 of them are descended from or are immigrants from the former Soviet Union who returned from the diaspora after the fall of the Former Soviet Union 1991 (about 300,000 of them are not considered to be Jewish under halakha). Most of the other 1,800,000 are descended from the first Zionist settlers in the Land of Israel, as well as Holocaust survivors and their descendants, with an additional 200,000 having immigrated or descended from immigrants from English-speaking countries and South America. They have played a prominent role in various fields including entertainment, literature, sports, science and technology, business and economy, media, and politics of Israel since its founding, and tend to be the most affluent of Israeli Jews.
Not all Jews immigrating to Israel from European countries are of Ashkenazi origin, and the Israeli government does not distinguish between Jewish ethnic groups in its census.
During the first decades of Israel as a state, strong cultural conflict was going on between Mizrahi, Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews (mainly east European Ashkenazim). The roots of this conflict, which still exists to a much smaller extent in present day Israeli society, stems from the many cultural differences between the various Jewish communities; this happened despite of the government's encouragement of the "melting pot". That is to say, all Jewish immigrants in Israel were strongly encouraged to "melt down" their own particular exile identities within the general social "pot" in order to become Israeli.
The current most prominent European countries of origin of the Israeli Jews are as follows:
The proportion of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish populations in Israel is unknown; some estimates place Jews of Mizrahi origin at up to 61% of the Israeli Jewish population, with hundreds of thousands more having mixed Ashkenazi heritage due to cross-cultural intermarriage.
Jews from North Africa and Asia have come to be called "Mizrahi Jews".
Most African and Asian Jewish communities use the Sephardic prayer ritual and abide by the rulings of Sephardic rabbinic authorities, and therefore consider themselves to be "Sephardim" in the broader sense of "Jews of the Spanish rite", though not in the narrower sense of "Spanish Jews". Of late, the term Mizrahi has come to be associated with all Jews in Israel with backgrounds in Islamic lands.
Cultural and/or "racial" biases against the newcomers were compounded by the fledgling state's lack of financial resources and inadequate housing to handle the massive population influx. Thus, hundreds of thousands of new Sephardic immigrants were sent to live in tent cities in outlying areas. Sephardim (in its wider meaning) were often victims of discrimination, and were sometimes called schwartze (meaning "black" in Yiddish).
Some believe that even worse than the housing discrimination was the differential treatment accorded the children of these immigrants, many of whom were tracked by the largely European education establishment into dead-end "vocational" high schools, without any real assessment of their intellectual capacities. Mizrahi Jews protested their unfair treatment, and even established the Israeli Black Panthers movement with the mission of working for social justice.
The effects of this early discrimination still linger a half-century later, as documented by the studies of the Adva Center, a think tank on social equality, and by other Israeli academic research (cf., for example, Tel Aviv University Professor Yehuda Shenhav's article in Hebrew documenting the gross under-representation of Sephardic Jewry in Israeli high school history textbooks.) All Israeli Prime Ministers have been Ashkenazi, although Sephardim and Mizrahim have attained high positions including ministerial positions, chief of staffs and presidency. The student bodies of Israel's universities remain overwhelmingly Ashkenazi in origin, despite the fact that roughly half the country's population is non-Ashkenazi. And the tent cities of the 1950s morphed into so-called "development towns". Scattered over border areas of the Negev Desert and the Galilee, far from the bright lights of Israel's major cities, most of these towns never had the critical mass or ingredients to succeed as places to live, and they continue to suffer from high unemployment, inferior schools, and chronic brain drain.
While the Israeli Black Panthers no longer exist, the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition and many other NGOs carry on the struggle for equal access and opportunity in housing, education, and employment for the country's underprivileged populace—still largely composed of Sephardim and Mizrahim, joined now by newer immigrants from Ethiopia and the Caucasus Mountains.
Today over 2,500,000 Mizrahi Jews, and Sephardic Jews live in Israel with the majority of them being descendants of the 680,000 Jews who fled Arab countries (<2,500,000), due to expulsions, and antisemitism, with smaller numbers having immigrated from the Islamic Republics of the Former Soviet Union (c.250,000), India (70,000), Iran (200,000–250,000), Turkey (80,000). Before the immigration of over 1,000,000 Russian mainly Ashkenazi Jews to Israel after to collapse of the Soviet Union, 70% of Israeli Jews were Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews.
The current most prominent countries of origin of these ethnic divisions are as follows:
Israel also has small populations of Italki Jews from Italy and Romaniote Jews from Greece and Turkey. Jews from both communities made aliyah in large numbers during the 20th century, especially after the Holocaust. Both came in relatively small numbers as compared to other Jewish groups. Despite their small numbers, the Italkim have been prominent in the economy and academia. Most Italki and Romaniote Israelis and their descendants live in the Tel Aviv area.
Nearly all of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community today lives in Israel, comprising more than 121,000 people. Most of this population are the descendants and the immigrants who immigrated to Israel during two massive waves of immigration mounted by the Israeli government—"Operation Moses" (1984) and during "Operation Solomon" (1991). Civil war and famine in Ethiopia prompted the Israeli government to mount these dramatic rescue operations. The rescues were within the context of Israel's national mission to gather Diaspora Jews and bring them to the Jewish homeland. Some immigration has continued up until the present day. Today 81,000 Ethiopian Israelis were born in Ethiopia, while 38,500 or 32% of the community are native born Israelis.
Over time, the Ethiopian Jews in Israel moved out of the government-owned mobile home camps that they initially lived in and settled mainly in the various cities and towns throughout Israel, mainly with the encouragement of the Israeli authorities who granted the new immigrants generous government loans or low-interest mortgages.
Similarly to other groups of immigrant Jews who made aliyah to Israel, the Ethiopian Jews have faced obstacles in their integration to Israeli society. Initially the main challenges of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel were due in part to communication difficulties (most of the population could not read or write in Hebrew, and much of the veteran population could not hold a simple conversation in the Hebrew language), discrimination in certain areas of the Israeli society, manifestations of racism from some parts of the Israeli society. Unlike Russian immigrants, many of whom arrive with job skills, Ethiopians came from a subsistence economy and were ill-prepared to work in an industrialized society.
Over the years there has been significant progress in the integration of this population group in the Israeli society, primarily due to the fact that most of the young Ethiopian population enlists to the mandatory Israel military service, where most Ethiopian Jews have been able to increase their chances for better opportunities.
Even though the assimilation rate among the Israeli Jewish community has always been low, the propriety and degree of assimilation of Israeli Jews and Jews worldwide has always been a significant and controversial issue within the modern Israeli Jewish community, with both political and religious skeptics.
While not all Jews disapprove of intermarriage, many members of the Israeli Jewish community have expressed their concern that a high rate of interfaith marriages will result in the eventual disappearance of the Israeli Jewish community.
In contrast to the current moderate birth rates of Israeli Jews and the relative low trends of assimilation, some communities within Israeli Jewry, such as Orthodox Jews, have significantly higher birth rates and lower intermarriage rates, and are growing rapidly.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 the term "Yerida" has been used to mark the emigration of Jews from Israel, whether in groups (small or large) or individually.
For many years definitive data on Israeli emigration was unavailable. In The Israeli Diaspora sociologist Stephen J. Gold maintains that calculation of Jewish emigration has been a contentious issue, explaining, "Since Zionism, the philosophy that underlies the existence of the Jewish state, calls for return home of the world's Jews, the opposite movement—Israelis leaving the Jewish state to reside elsewhere—clearly presents an ideological and demographic problem."
Among the most common reasons for emigration of Israeli Jews from Israel are economic constraints, economic characteristics (U.S. and Canada have always been richer nations than Israel), disappointment of the Israeli government, Israel's ongoing security issues, as well as the excessive role of religion in the lives of Israelis.
In recent decades, considerable numbers of Israeli Jews have moved abroad. Reasons for emigration vary, but generally relate to a combination of economic and political concerns. According to data published in 2006, from 1990 to 2005, 230,000 Israelis left the country; a large proportion of these departures included people who initially immigrated to Israel and then reversed their course (48% of all post-1990 departures and even 60% of 2003 and 2004 departures were former immigrants to Israel). 8% of Jewish immigrants in the post-1990 period left Israel. In 2005 alone, 21,500 Israelis left the country and had not yet returned at the end of 2006; among them 73% were Jews. At the same time, 10,500 Israelis came back to Israel after over one year abroad; 84% of them were Jews.
In addition, The Israeli Jewish diaspora group consists also of many Jews worldwide, especially the ones who originate from western countries, who have gained Israeli citizenships during their life under the Israeli Law of Return (under which they are immediately entitled to an Israeli citizenship) who lived a short period of time in Israel and eventually choose to return to their country of origin and keep their dual citizenship.
Many Israeli Jews emigrated to the United States throughout the period of the declaration of the state of Israel and until today. Today, the descendants of these people are known as Israeli-Americans. The 2000 Census counted 106,839 Israeli Americans. It is estimated that 400,000–800,000 Israeli Jews have immigrated to the United States since the 1950s, though this number remains a contested figure, since many Israelis are originally from other countries and may list their origin countries when arriving in the United States.
Many Israeli Jews emigrated to Canada throughout the period of the declaration of the state of Israel and until today. Today, the descendants of these people are known as Israeli Canadians. It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Jewish Israelis live in Canada.
Many Israeli Jews emigrated to the United Kingdom throughout the period of the declaration of the state of Israel and until today. Today, the descendants of these people are known as Israeli-British. It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Jewish Israelis live in the United Kingdom.
In the northern part of Israel the percentage of Jewish population is declining. The increasing population of Arabs within Israel, and the majority status they hold in two major geographic regions—the Galilee and the Triangle—has become a growing point of open political contention in recent years.
The phrase demographic threat (or demographic bomb) is used within the Israeli political sphere to describe the growth of Israel's Arab citizenry as constituting a threat to its maintenance of its status as a Jewish state with a Jewish demographic majority.
Israeli historian Benny Morris states:
The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt (after an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and biological missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen. If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified[...]
The term "demographic bomb" was famously used by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2003 when he asserted that if the percentage of Arab citizens rises above its current level of about 20 percent, Israel will not be able to maintain a Jewish demographic majority. Netanyahu's comments were criticized as racist by Arab Knesset members and a range of civil rights and human rights organizations, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Even earlier allusions to the "demographic threat" can be found in an internal Israeli government document drafted in 1976 known as the Koenig Memorandum, which laid out a plan for reducing the number and influence of Arab citizens of Israel in the Galilee region.
In 2003, the Israeli daily Ma'ariv published an article entitled, "Special Report: Polygamy is a Security Threat," detailing a report put forth by the Director of the Israeli Population Administration at the time, Herzl Gedj; the report described polygamy in the Bedouin sector a "security threat" and advocated means of reducing the birth rate in the Arab sector. The Population Administration is a department of the Demographic Council, whose purpose, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics is: "...to increase the Jewish birthrate by encouraging women to have more children using government grants, housing benefits, and other incentives." In 2008 the Minister of the Interior appointed Yaakov Ganot as new head of the Population Administration, which according to Haaretz is "probably the most important appointment an interior minister can make."
The rapid population growth with the Haredi sector may affect, according to some Israeli researchers, the preservation of a Jewish majority in the state of Israel. Preserving a Jewish majority population within the state of Israel have been a defining principle among Israeli Jews, where Jewish couples are encouraged to have large families. Many financial incentives were given on behalf of the Israeli government. For instance, Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion set up a monetary fund for Jewish women who gave birth to at least 10 children. In addition to increasing to Jewish population and commitment towards preserving a Jewish majority, Israel continues to place a high value on increasing fertility among Jewish mothers. To further increase the Israeli Jewish fertility rate and population, many fertility clinics have been opened and are operated throughout the country. Israel spends $60 million annually on publicly funded fertility treatments and operates more fertility clinics per capita than any other country in the world.
A study showed that in 2010, Jewish birthrates rose by 31% and 19,000 diaspora Jews immigrated to Israel, while the Arab birthrate fell by 1.7%. By June 2013, a number of Israeli demographers called the so-called Arab demographic time bomb a myth, citing a declining Arab and Muslim birth rate, an incremental increase in the Israeli Jewish birth rate, unnecessary demographic scare campaigns, as well as inflated statistics released by the Palestinian Authority
Roughly 8% of Israeli Jews defined as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 13% are "religious"; 25% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not adhering strictly to Jewish Halakha); and 42% are "secular" (termed "hiloni"). Among the seculars, 53% believe in God. However, 78% of all Israelis (virtually all Israeli Jews) participate in a Passover seder, and 63% fast on Yom Kippur.
Jewish religious practice in Israel is quite varied. Among the 4.3 million American Jews described as "strongly connected" to Judaism, over 80% report some sort of active engagement with Judaism, ranging from attendance at daily prayer services on one end of the spectrum to as little as attendance Passover Seders or lighting Hanukkah candles on the other.
Unlike North American Jews, Israeli Jews tend not to align themselves with a movement of Judaism (such as Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism) but instead tend to define their religious affiliation by degree of their religious practice.
Another characteristic of the Jewish community in Israel is the relatively high dynamism in which the Israeli Jews tend to define their religious status. Among the secular and traditionalist groups some individuals choose to embrace Orthodox Judaism. In 2009 around 200,000 Israeli Jews aged 20 and above defined themselves as "Baalei teshuva" (חוזרים בתשובה), Nevertheless, in practice about a quarter of them have a traditionalist lifestyle. Various Orthodox organizations operate in Israel with the aim of getting non-Orthodox Jews embrace Orthodox Judaism. Notable examples are the Chasidic movements Chabad and Breslov whom has gained much popularity among the Baalei teshuva, the organizations Arachim and Lev LaAchim who initiate seminars in Judaism, and the organization Aish HaTorah.
On the other hand, Among the religious and Orthodox groups in Israel, many individuals chose to part from the religious lifestyle and embrace a secular lifestyle (they are referred to as Yotz'im bish'ela). A research conducted in 2011 estimated that about 30 percent of the national religious youth from the religious lifestyle and embrace a secular lifestyle, but 75 percent of them go back to religion after a formation process of the their self-identity, which usually lasts until age 28. Contrary to Baalei teshuva, the Orthodox Jews whom wish to embrace a secular lifestyle only have very few organizations whom assist them in parting from the Haredi world, and often they end up finding themselves destitute or struggling to complete the educational and social gaps. The most prominent organizations whom assist Yotz'im bish'ela are the NGO organizations Hillel and Dror.
The Israeli government regulates and finances most of the schools operating in the country, including the majority of those run by private organizations. The national school system has two major branches—a Hebrew-speaking branch and an Arabic-speaking branch. The curricula for the two systems are almost identical in mathematics, sciences, and English. It is different in humanities (history, literature, etc.). While Hebrew is taught as a second language in Arab schools since the third grade and obligatory for Arabic-speaking schools' matriculation exams, only basic knowledge of Arabic is taught in Hebrew-speaking schools, usually from the 7th to the 9th grade. Arabic is not obligatory for Hebrew-speaking schools' matriculation exams.
The movement for the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language was particularly popular among new Jewish Zionist immigrants who came to Palestine since the 1880s. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (born in the Russian Empire) and his followers created the first Hebrew-speaking schools, newspapers, and other Hebrew-language institutions. After his immigration to Israel, and due to the impetus of the Second Aliyah (1905–1914), Hebrew prevailed as the single official and spoken language of the Jewish community of mandatory Palestine. When the State of Israel was formed in 1948, the government viewed Hebrew as the de facto official language and initiated a melting pot policy, where every immigrant was required to study Hebrew and often to adopt a Hebrew surname. Use of Yiddish, which was the main competitor prior to World War II, was discouraged, and the number of Yiddish speakers declined as the older generations died out, though Yiddish is still commonly used in Ashkenazi haredi communities.
Modern Hebrew is also the primary official language of the modern State of Israel and almost all Israeli Jews are native Hebrew-speakers and speak Hebrew as their primary language. A variety of other languages are still spoken within some Israeli Jewish communities, communities that are representative of the various Jewish ethnic divisions from around the world that have come together to make up Israel's Jewish population.
Even though the majority of Israeli Jews are native Hebrew speakers, many Jewish immigrants still continue to speak their former languages—many immigrants from the Soviet Union continue to speak primarily Russian at home and many immigrants from Ethiopia continue to speak primarily Amharic at home.
Currently, 90% of the Israeli-Jewish public is proficient in Hebrew, and 70% is highly proficient.
Some prominent Israeli politicians such as David Ben-Gurion had tried to learn Arabic, the Mizrahi Jews spoke Judeo-Arabic although most of their descendants in Israel today only speak Hebrew.
Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as the Jewish state. Israel's Declaration of Independence specifically called for the establishment of a Jewish state with equality of social and political rights, irrespective of religion, race, or sex. The notion that Israel should be constituted in the name of and maintain a special relationship with a particular group of people, the Jewish people, has drawn much controversy vis-à-vis minority groups living in Israel—the large number of Muslim and Christian Palestinians residing in Israel. Nevertheless, through the years many Israeli Jewish nationalists have based the legitimacy of Israel being a Jewish state on the Balfour Declaration and ancient historical ties to the land, asserting that both play particular roles as evidence under international law, as well as a fear that a hostile Arab world might be disrespectful of a Jewish minority—alleging a variety of possible harms up to and including genocide—were Israel to become a post-national "state for all its citizens".
Through the years, as Israel's continued existence as a "Jewish State" has relied upon the maintenance of a Jewish demographic majority, Israeli demographers, politicians and bureaucrats have treated Jewish population growth promotion as a central question in their research and policymaking.
The Law of Return is an Israeli legislation that grants all Jews and those of Jewish lineage the right to gain an Israeli citizenship and to settle in Israel. It was enacted by the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, on July 5, 1950, and the related Law of Citizenship in 1952. These two pieces of legislation contain expressions pertaining to religion, history and nationalism, as well as to democracy, in a combination unique to Israel. Together, they grant preferential treatment to Jews returning to their ancestral homeland.
The Law of Return declares that Israel constitutes a home not only for the inhabitants of the State, but also for all members of the Jewish people everywhere, be they living in poverty and fear of persecution or be they living in affluence and safety. The law declares to the Jewish people and to the world that the State of Israel welcomes the Jews of the world to return to their ancient homeland.
Currently, all the marriages and divorces in Israel (as well as within the Jewish community) are recognized by the Israeli Interior Ministry only if performed under an official recognized religious authority and only between a man and a woman of the same religion. The Jewish marriage and divorce in Israel are under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which defines a person's Jewish status strictly according to halakha.
Civilian marriages are only officially sanctioned if performed abroad. As a result, it is not uncommon for couples who may for some reason not be able (or chose not) to get married in Israel to travel overseas to get married.
During its time of existence the legal settlement that gives the rabbinical courts the monopoly on conducting the marriages and divorces of the entire Israeli Jewish population has been a source of great criticism from the secular public in Israel, but also to the ardent support from the religious public. The main argument of the supporters of the law is that its cancellation will divide the Jewish people in Israel between the Jews who would marry and divorce each other within the Jewish religious authorities and the Jews who would marry and divorce each other within the civil marriages—which would not be registered or inspected by the religious authorities, and thus their children would be considered illegitimate to marry the children of the couples married within the religious court, from fear of them being considered Mamzer. Opponents of the law see it as a severe offense to the human civil rights made by the state of Israel.
However, common-law marriage is recognized by Israeli law, without restriction of ethnicity, religion or sex (that is, both for inter-sex and same-sex couples, and between a Jew and a non-Jew). Once, the status of common law marriage is proven and obtained, it gives a legal status almost equal to marriage.
National military service is mandatory for any Israeli over the age of 18, with the exception of the Arab Muslim and Christian population (currently estimated at around 20% of the Israeli population) and many ultra-Orthodox Jews (currently estimated at around 8% of the Israeli Jewish population and rising steeply). Druze and Circassian men are liable, by agreement with their community leaders. Members of the exempted groups can still volunteer, but very few do, except for the Bedouin where a relatively large number of men have tended to volunteer. The Israeli Jewish population and especially the secular Israeli Jewish population, is currently the only population group in Israel that has a mandatory military conscription for both men and women—a fact that has caused much resentment from within the Jewish community towards the non-serving population, some of which are demanding that all the Israeli citizens share an equal amount of responsibilities, whether in the Israeli army or as part of Sherut Leumi.
In addition, in the recent decade a growing minority from within the Israeli Jewish conscripts have denounced the mandatory enrollment, and refused to serve (see also Refusal to serve in the Israeli military), many claiming that due to financial insecurities they feel that they need to be spending their time more productively pursuing their chosen studies or career paths. Some individual resentment may also be compounded by the typically low wages paid to conscripts—the current Israeli policies see National Service as a duty rendered to the country and its citizens, and therefore the Israeli army does not pay any wages to conscripts, but instead grants a low monthly allowance to the full-time national service personnel, depending on the type of their duty.
The Jewish National Fund is a private organization established in 1901 to buy and develop land in the Land of Israel for Jewish settlement; land purchases were funded by donations from world Jewry exclusively for that purpose. The JNF currently owns 13% of the land in Israel, while 79.5% is owned by the government (this land is leased on a non-discriminatory basis) and the rest, around 6.5%, is evenly divided between private Arab and Jewish owners. Thus, the Israel Land Administration (ILA) administers 93.5% of the land in Israel (Government Press Office, Israel, 22 May 1997). A significant portion of JNF lands were originally properties left behind by Palestinian "absentees" and as a result the legitimacy of some JNF land ownership has been a matter of dispute. The JNF purchased these lands from the State of Israel between 1949 and 1953, after the state took control of them according to the Absentee Properties Law. While the JNF charter specifies the land is for the use of the Jewish People, land has been leased to Bedouin herders. Nevertheless, JNF land policy has been criticized as discrimination. When the Israel Land Administration leased JNF land to Arabs, it took control of the land in question and compensated the JNF with an equivalent amount of land in areas not designated for development (generally in the Galilee and the Negev), thus ensuring that the total amount of land owned by the JNF remains the same. This was a complicated and controversial mechanism, and in 2004 use of it was suspended. After Supreme Court discussions and a directive by the Attorney General instructing the ILA to lease JNF land to Arabs and Jews alike, in September 2007 the JNF suggested reinstating the land-exchange mechanism.
While the JNF and the ILA view an exchange of lands as a long-term solution, opponents say that such maneuvers privatize municipal lands and preserve a situation in which significant lands in Israel are not available for use by all of its citizens. As of 2007, the High Court delayed ruling on JNF policy regarding leasing lands to non-Jews, and changes to the ILA-JNF relationship were up in the air. Adalah and other organizations furthermore express concern that proposed severance of the relation between the ILA and JNF, as suggested by Ami Ayalon, would leave the JNF free to retain the same proportion of lands for Jewish uses as it seeks to settle hundreds of thousands of Jews in areas with a tenuous Jewish demographic majority (in particular, 100,000 Jews in existing Galilee communities and 250,000 Jews in new Negev communities via the Blueprint Negev).
The main language used for communication among Israeli citizens and among the Israeli Jews is Modern Hebrew, a language that emerged in the late 19th century, based on different dialects of ancient Hebrew and influenced by Yiddish, Arabic, Slavic languages, and German.
Hebrew and Arabic are currently official languages of Israel. Government ministries publish all material intended for the public in Hebrew, with selected material translated into Arabic, English, Russian, and other languages spoken in Israel.
The country's laws are published in Hebrew, and eventually English and Arabic translations are published. Publishing the law in Hebrew in the official gazette (Reshumot) is enough to make it valid. Unavailability of an Arabic translation can be regarded as a legal defense only if the defendant proves he could not understand the meaning of the law in any conceivable way. Following appeals to the Israeli Supreme Court, the use of Arabic on street signs and labels increased dramatically. In response to one of the appeals presented by Arab Israeli organizations,[which?] the Supreme Court ruled that although second to Hebrew, Arabic is an official language of the State of Israel, and should be used extensively. Today most highway signage is trilingual (Hebrew, Arabic, and English).
Hebrew is the standard language of communication at places of work except inside the Arab community, and among recent immigrants, foreign workers, and with tourists. The state's schools in Arab communities teach in Arabic according to a specially adapted curriculum. This curriculum includes mandatory lessons of Hebrew as foreign language from the 3rd grade onwards. Arabic is taught in Hebrew-speaking schools, but only the basic level is mandatory.
Critics of Israel as a Jewish nation state have suggested that it should adopt more inclusive and neutral symbolism for the national flag and anthem arguing that they exclude the non-Jewish citizens of Israel from their narrative of a national identity. Defenders of the flag say that many flags in Europe bear crosses (such as the flags of Sweden, Finland, Norway, United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Greece), while flags in predominantly Muslim countries bear distinctive Muslim symbols (such as Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, and Saudi Arabia).
Through the years some Israeli-Arab politicians have requested a reevaluation of the Israeli flag and Israeli national anthem, arguing that they cannot represent all citizens of Israel, including the Arab citizens of Israel. Although the proposals to change the flag have never been discussed in the state institutions, they do occasionally get to a public discussion, as part of the discussion on whether Israel is, as defined by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, "A Jewish and Democratic State", or, or if it must become, as demanded by certain circles, "a state of all its citizens". The demand to change the flag is seen among many Israelis as a threat to the very essence of the state. In relation to this, in 2001 the Israeli Minister of Education Limor Livnat ordered the enforcement of the flag amendment she initiated, and ordered a raising the flag in the front of all schools in Israel, even those serving the Arab population.
As part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, over the years, various Palestinian militants have carried out attacks against Israeli Jews. Statistics from Btselem state that 3,500 Israelis have been killed and 25,000 have been wounded as a result of Palestinian violence since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. These figures include soldiers as well as civilians, including those killed in exchanges of gunfire. Israeli statistics listing 'hostile terrorist attacks' also include incidents which stones are thrown. Suicide bombings constituted just 0.5% of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the first two years of the Al Aqsa Intifada, though this percentage accounted for half of the Israelis killed in that period. According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were 56 terrorist attacks against Israelis from 1952 to 1967.
During the 1970s, numerous attacks against Israeli civilians were carried out by Palestinians from Lebanon. Notable incidents include the Coastal Road Massacre (25 adults and 13 children killed, 71 injured), the Avivim school bus massacre (3 adults and 9 children killed, 25 injured), the Kiryat Shmona massacre (9 adults and 9 children killed, 15 injured), the Lod Airport massacre (26 killed, 79 injured), and the Ma'alot massacre (8 adults and 23 children killed, 70 injured).
During the Second Intifada, a period of increased violence from September 2000 to 2005, Palestinians carried out 152 suicide bombings and attempted to carry out over 650 more. Other methods of attack include launching Qassam rockets and mortars into Israel, kidnapping of both soldiers and civilians, including children, shootings, assassination, stabbings, stonings, and lynchings. As of November 2012, over 15,000 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that of the 1,010 Israelis killed between September 2000 and January 2005, 78 percent were civilians. Another 8,341 were injured in what the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to as terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2007.
In 2010, Israel honored the memory of all 3,971 Israeli civilian victims whom have been killed through Israel's history, as part of political violence, Palestinian political violence, and terrorism in general.
There are significant tensions between Arab citizens and their Jewish counterparts. Polls differ considerably in their findings regarding intercommunal relations.
On April 29, 2007 Haaretz reported that an Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) poll of 507 people showed that 75% of "Israeli Arabs would support a constitution that maintained Israel's status as a Jewish and democratic state while guaranteeing equal rights for minorities, while 23% said they would oppose such a definition."
In contrast, a 2006 poll commissioned by The Center Against Racism, showed negative attitudes towards Arabs, based on questions asked to 500 Jewish residents of Israel representing all levels of Jewish society. The poll found that: 63% of Jews believe Arabs are a security threat; 68% of Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab; 34% of Jews believe that Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture. Additionally, support for segregation between Jewish and Arab citizens was found to be higher among Jews of Middle Eastern origin than those of European origin. A more recent poll by the Center Against Racism (2008) found a worsening of Jewish citizens' perceptions of their Arab counterparts:
A 2007 poll conducted by Sami Smooha, a sociologist at Haifa University, found that:
Surveys in 2009 found a radicalization in the positions of Israeli Arabs towards the State of Israel, with 41% of Israeli Arabs recognizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state (down from 65.6% in 2003), and 53.7% believing Israel has a right to exist as an independent country (down from 81.1% in 2003). Polls also showed that 40% of Arab citizens engaged in Holocaust denial.
A 2010 Arab Jewish Relations Survey, compiled by Prof. Sami Smoocha in collaboration with the Jewish-Arab Center at the University of Haifa shows that:
A 2010 poll from the Arab World for Research and Development found that:
A range of politicians, rabbis, journalists, and historians commonly refer to the 20–25% minority of Arabs in Israel as being a "fifth column" inside the state of Israel.