Israel’s Census Bureau is amending its system of classification to include non-Jews who are not Arab to be included under the heading of “extended Jewish population”. Until now, people who fall under this classification have been defined as “other.” This will include people who gained citizenship by marrying Israelis, or immigrated under the law of return, which extends citizenship to anyone with a single Jewish grandparent. Many such immigrants hail from the former USSR where nearly 1/3 are not Jewish according to Jewish law. Of them, many are practicing Christians. This will also include non-Arab Muslims, such as the Circassian community.
The new classification came as the result of an appeal by Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) to the chief statistician and director-general of the CBS, Professor Danny Pepperman. Stern claimed that implicit in listing these people as other was the goal of converting non-Jews who immigrate. He argued that placing them in an “other” category could push them away.
Israel’s statistics bureau poised to expand its definition of ‘Jewish’: Nearly half a million Israelis qualify for citizenship, but are not defined as Jewish by halakha. The Central Bureau of Statistics is now expected to stop using the offensive… https://t.co/zu4MNsGDdh Haaretz pic.twitter.com/Or6Fd6Vi7b
— Jewish Community (@JComm_NewsFeeds) January 10, 2022
“The current situation hurts immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return, and feel they are part of the Jewish people,” said Minister Stern. “Our goal is for these people to join the Jewish people, and not be separated from it by all sorts of preliminary actions, including the unjustified division that exists today in the CBS.”
At the end of 2020, 415,147 Israelis, or 4.6% of the population were categorized under “other.”According to the data in the population registry, 60.4% of the group are entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return; most of the rest immigrated to Israel as part of a family reunification. The majority of these people are Russian-speaking immigrants who came to Israel in the 1990s, and their children.
The new classification will not solve any real-world difficulties as the changes will be instituted in the Census bureau but will not be incorporated into the Ministry of the Interior.
Sergio DellaPergola, an expert in demography and statistics, said that if adopted, the change would be “more cosmetic than anything else.”
“If you ask these nearly half a million citizens if they are Jewish, a good half would say ‘yes,’ while the others would probably say, ‘I’d like to be, but I’m not allowed in.’”
Eliahu Ben Moshe, a demographer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Haaretz that the designation of “others” was “demeaning and problematic.”
Those who are classified as not “religiously Jewish” cannot legally marry in Israel nor be buried in Jewish cemeteries in the country.