Christian Arabs in Israel appear to represent the most successfully studious sector in the Jewish state, new research shows, as the tiny sector’s students are more likely than any other Israeli community to succeed on their matriculation exams.
According to a study published by the Central Bureau of Statistics ahead of Christmas, over the past school year, 70% of the sector’s high school students were eligible for matriculation, compared to 50% of Muslim-Arab students, 64% of Druze students, and 61% of students enrolled in the mostly Jewish Hebrew education system.
Slightly more than 160,000 Christian citizens currently reside in Israel, less than two percent of the country’s overall population. The study found that almost 80% of Israel’s Christian population identify as Arab, while the remaining 20% is comprised mostly of immigrants from Russia who arrived in Israel under the Law of Return, and other residents who identify as Christian.
The majority of Christian Arabs live in the cities of Haifa, Nazareth, and Shfaram, as well as other towns in the country’s north, though a sizable minority also reside in and around Jerusalem.
Despite the community’s strides in education, challenges remain around the question of identity and their place in broader Israeli society. On Sunday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) turned down a request from a Christian Knesset member to place a Christmas tree on prominent display in the parliament.
MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash), an Arab Christian from the Galilee town of Eilaboun, had sent a letter to the speaker last Thursday urging him to order the placing of the Christmas tree “at the entrance [to the Knesset], or in another visible place, as you see fit.”
Edelstein’s office announced he had declined Swaid’s request.
Earlier this year, Christian Arab citizens of Israel announced the formation of a new political party that calls for Arab enlistment into the IDF. The party’s Hebrew name — B’nei Brit Hahadasha — means “Sons of the New Testament,” although the word “allies” is hidden in the title as well.
The effort was part of a growing assertiveness on the part of Christian Arabs in the wake of the Arab Spring, as they increasingly sound calls for an identity distinct from Israel’s broader Arab society, which is around 90% Muslim.
According to its Facebook page, the party’s platform includes full integration of Christians in all fields, peace with a democratic Palestinian state and all of Israel’s neighbors, increased tourism and trade, and the return of Israelis who have left the country.
The new movement is led by Bishara Shilyan, a 58-year-old sea captain from the mixed Christian-Muslim city of Nazareth, who came up with the idea after witnessing the troubles his nephew ran into when he tried to enlist in the army.
Haviv Rettig Gur, Lazar Berman and Elhanan Miller contributed to this report