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Israel - People

On 19 July 2018 Israel passed a law that, for the first time, declared the country to be the nation-state of the Jewish people, excluding the Arab-Israeli minority that makes up twenty percent of the population. The legislation also downgrades the status of the Arabic language and encourages the development of Jewish settlement. The Knesset approved the Nationality Law in its second and third readings, with 62 MKs voting in favor of the legislation, 55 voted against and two abstained.

Much of the bill, sponsored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus Likud party, dealt with obvious signs that Israel is a Jewish state, such as affirming the symbols on the flag and shield, setting the Hebrew calendar as the countrys official calendar, recognizing Jewish holidays and days of remembrance, the national anthem and naming Jerusalem as the capital.

"This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset after the vote. Netanyahu defended the law. "We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel's democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides," he said. "An absolute majority wants to ensure our state's Jewish character for generations to come."

The Nationality Law aims to codify Israels status as the nation-state of the Jewish people into Israels Basic Laws. Largely symbolic, the law was enacted just after the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel. It stipulates that "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it". The bill also strips Arabic of its designation as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a "special status" that enables its continued use within Israeli institutions. The law declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state.

Clauses that were dropped in last-minute political wrangling - and after objections by Israel's president and attorney-general - would have enshrined in law the establishment of Jewish-only communities, and instructed courts to rule according to Jewish ritual law when there were no relevant legal precedents.

Instead, a more vaguely-worded version was approved, which says: "The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment." Even after the changes, critics said the new law will deepen a sense of alienation within the Arab minority.

Hassan Jabareen, the director general of Adalah, the Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel, said that the law had key elements of apartheid, which is prohibited under international law. He said: "The new law constitutionally enshrines the identity of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people only despite the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of the state and residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and guarantees the exclusive ethnic-religious character of Israel as Jewish... By defining sovereignty and democratic self-rule as belonging solely to the Jewish people Israel has made discrimination a constitutional value and has professed its commitment to favoring Jewish supremacy as the bedrock of its institutions.

An Israeli citizen is different from a permanent resident of Israel and a temporary resident of Israel, as well as anyone residing in Israel on different Israeli visa categories. One distinct way this differs is demonstrated by the fact that only Israeli citizens have Israeli passports. The issue of Israeli citizenship is determined by the 1952 Citizenship Law, also known as the Israeli Nationality Law. This law, which was legislated by the Israeli parliament (Knesset) four years after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, has been amended several times since, but in essence has remained the same and outlines the ways to acquire Israeli citizenship.

The population of the State of Israel stood at 8,904,373, according to new census figures released 21 September 2014 by the Population and Immigration Authority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting that Israels population has surpassed 8 million in 2013, including a population of over 6 million Jews, a historically freighted figure equaling the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The number of Jews living in Israel actually topped the 6 million mark in early 2013, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, a milestone marked by Netanyahu at the time. Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust. Netanyahu said at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in April 2013. Today, for the first time since the establishment of the State, more than 6 million Jews live in the State of Israel. You, the citizens of Israel, are the testament to our victory. From the abyss of the Holocaust, we climbed to the peak of Zion. From a deep pit, we rose to a pinnacle.

Of the approximately 6.4 million Israelis in 2001, about 5.2 million were counted as Jewish, though some of those are not considered Jewish under Orthodox Jewish law. Since 1989, nearly a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have arrived in Israel, making this the largest wave of immigration since independence. In addition, almost 50,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community have immigrated to Israel, 14,000 of them during the dramatic May 1991 Operation Solomon airlift. Thirty-six percent of Israelis were born outside Israel.

The three broad Jewish groupings are the Ashkenazim, or Jews who trace their ancestry to western, central, and eastern Europe; the Sephardim, who trace their origin to Spain, Portugal, southern Europe, and North Africa; and Mizrahi [Eastern or Oriental Jews], who descend from ancient communities in Islamic lands. The exact population breakdown is hard to calculate because intermarriage is now quite common. But by 2015 Mizrahi or part-Mizrahi Jews made up roughly half of Israel's Jewish population. Of the non-Jewish population, about 73% are Muslims, about 10.5% are Christian, and under 10% are Druze.

The Mizrahi dispute goes back to Israel's earliest days of independence. Arriving from Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa after Israel's establishment in 1948, many Mizrahi immigrants were sent to shantytown transit camps and largely sidelined by the European leaders of the founding Labor Party. The educational experience of Israeli Jews from Islamic countries (Mizrahi Jews) demonstrated the struggle between egalitarian rhetoric (a critical multiculturalism with a social-democratic character) on one hand and a practice of segregation (an autonomist multiculturalism with fundamentalist features) on the other.

The settlement of the frontiers in the Israeli 'ethnocracy ' exacerbated the marginalised incorporation of Mizrahi (Eastern Jews), as many of them were settled in peripheral, low status and segregated localities. These structural conditions help explain the persisting disparities between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews. The case of Israel thus exposes a paradox: the very frontier settlement promoted as essential for nation-building, may cause intra-national fragmentation and conflict.

Likud's Menachem Begin, though he was himself of Polish Jewish descent, cultivated an outsiders' alliance that appealed to the Mizrahis' sense of deprivation. He swept into power with massive Mizrahi backing in 1977, breaking nearly 30 years of Labor rule.

With more than 550,000 Israeli settlers living in territories claimed by the Palestinians, by 2015 Israeli liberals - along with the Palestinians - believed time was running out for the "two-state solution."

When Arab-Israeli peace talks began in late 1991, more than 80 percent of the West Bank contained no settlements or only sparsely populated ones. As of July 2012, the estimated Jewish population of the nearly 130 officially recognized West Bank settlements was 350,150. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew by more than 15,000 in the past year to reach a total that exceeds 350,000 for the first time and has almost doubled in the previous 12 years. More than 60 percent of Israelis living in the West Bank live in just five settlement blocs - Maale Adumim, Modiin Ilit, Ariel, Gush Etzion, Givat Zeev - which all lie within only a few miles of the 1967 border. In August 2005, Israel evacuated all the settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank under the disengagement plan initiated by Prime Minister Sharon. Gaza has had no Jewish population since then.

In May 2012, the Palestinian population of the West Bank stood at 2,657,029, according to a Civil Administration document obtained by Haaretz. In addition, the document points out, there has been a 29 percent rise in the Palestinian population since the year 2000. The population of Gaza is 1,816,379, according to a July 2014 estimate by CIA. According to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which is responsible for the care of Palestinian refugees, more than 1.5 million Palestinian refugees live in camps in countries in the region.

In the Gaza Strip, forces under Hamas control maintained security. In West Bank Palestinian population centers, mostly Area A as defined by the Oslo-era agreements, containing 55 percent of the Palestinian population on approximately 18 percent of West Bank land area, the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control. However, since 2002, following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Israeli security forces have regularly conducted security operations in Area A cities, often without coordinating with PA security forces. In Area B territory in the West Bank, which contained 41 percent of the population on approximately 21 percent of the territory, mostly small Palestinian villages and farmland, the PA has civil control, but Israel retains responsibility for security control. In Area C, which contains Israeli settlements, military installations, and 4 percent of the Palestinian population in small villages, farmland, and open countryside on approximately 61 percent of the land area, Israel retains full civil and security control.

Under the unique circumstances of the ongoing conflict, Arabs who constitute one-fifth of the Israeli population, are perceived as a hostile minority with national, religious, and cultural ties to the enemy the Arab world. They are often believed to be supportive of subversive activity. They are perceived to be a threat to the Jewish and democratic values of Israel, and the potential growth of their population is a constant source of political dispute. They are not assimilated into Israeli culture and, in the minds of many non-Arab Israelis, are a remote out-group. With the nature of their inclusion in Israeli society a matter of perpetual debate, they are formally and informally discriminated against.

Israeli demographers, led by Professors Sergio Della Pergola in Jerusalem and Professor Arnon Sofer in Haifa, first warned of a "demographic threat" in the late 1990s, after analyzing data released by the Palestinians Central Bureau of Statistics in 1997. Although the details varied depending on the model used, these initial studies predicted high growth rates for the Palestinian population. Della Pergola's model predicted that the Jewish population in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza would be a minority by 2010. Sofer maintained that even without the Territories, the proportion of Israel's population that is Jewish would decrease (from over 80 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2020). According to Arnon Soffer, Israel's most prominent demographer, 6,300,000 Jews were expected to live in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza combined while the Palestinian population would be 8,740,000.

In January 2005 the American Research Initiative (ARI) issued a new study claiming that the "demographic threat" was exaggerated. ARI's report said that the generally accepted figures for the combined Palestinian (3.83 million) and Israeli Arab (1.3 million) population living in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are inflated by as many as 1.5 million people. ARI's assessment was based upon registered births and deaths from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, immigration and emigration data from the Israeli Border Police, as well as statistics from the Israeli Ministry of Interior, the Civil Administration for the West Bank and Gaza (COGAT), and the Palestinian Central Elections Commission.

Using these statistics, ARI maintained that previously predicted Palestinian growth rates of 4-5 percent were unrealistically high. ARI also claimed that the PA's 1997 baseline improperly double-counted Arabs living in Jerusalem and included many non-resident holders of PA identity cards.

ARI concludee that the Palestinian population hae remained stable at approximately 25 percent of the total population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, where Jewish and Jewish-affiliated groups (e.g., Russian immigrants not considered Jewish under religious law) comprised a 60 percent majority. According to ARI's findings, as of 2005 Jewish residents outnumbered Arabs by a total of four-to-one inside Israel (including Jerusalem but not Gaza or most of the West Bank). Upon releasing the report, ARI said that the challenge was one of dealing with a large Arab minority in Israel; not one of dealing with an eventual Arab majority.

For the politicians, the statistics are important because they cut to the core of Israel's unique status as a Jewish and democratic state. Politicians from almost every sector of the political spectrum have used the data to argue both for and against policies such as accelerated negotiations with the Palestinians, construction of the fence, and disengagement.

On the left, the Labor Party has long maintained that the rapid increase in the Palestinian population is cause for urgency in concluding a broad agreement with the PA. Shimon Peres once told reporters that "the demographic clock is not ticking in Israel's favor." Ariel Sharon used demographic data indirectly to support his disengagement plan, maintaining that withdrawal from overwhelmingly Palestinian areas will safeguard Israel's character as a Jewish, democratic state. Ehud Olmert made similar arguments, raising the specter that Palestinians will oppose a two-state solution if they believe they will eventually comprise a majority of the population. "I shudder to think that liberal Jewish organizations that shouldered the burden of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa will lead the struggle against us," he said when asked about possible Jewish rule over a majority Arab population.

Opponents to disengagement have used demographics to counter such arguments. After hearing a presentation of the ARI report, the Chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuval Steinitz, told reporters that the research suggested that Israel can afford to remain in Gaza and the West Bank for a longer period of time until a political solution is reached. Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu caused an uproar in 2004 when he claimed the only "demographic bomb" threatening Israel came from Israeli Arabs. His Ministry later announced that a decrease in the birthrate among Israeli Arabs had been the result of cutbacks in child welfare allowances.

For the demographers, the debate is a dispute over the actual size and growth rate of the Palestinian (and Israeli Arab) populations in relation to Israel's Jewish community. The birth rates of Arabs and Jews in Israel are close to converging - around three children per woman. Della Pergola, among others, claims that fertility rates used by ARI are "unrealistically low;" while the birth rate among Palestinians is falling, Della Pergola notes that families in the West Bank still have an average of 5.4 children, while those in Gaza have 7.4.

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Page last modified: 21-07-2018 05:56:43 ZULU