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Israel to begin classifying non-Arab gentile citizens as ‘extended Jewish’

Change by statistics bureau to affect over 400,000 Israelis, most of them Russian-speakers not defined as Jewish and non-Arab Christians, who were previously categorized as ‘other’

Illustrative photo of a man dressed as Santa Claus with a Christmas tree, outside of Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a man dressed as Santa Claus with a Christmas tree, outside of Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Changes to Israel’s census bureau means that citizens will only be classified as Jews or Arabs, with all non-Jews who are not Arab being counted under a new “extended Jewish population” rubric.

The change will see the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) eliminate the separate category of “others” in official publications on demographics, after a request from a Yesh Atid minister who worried the word could put off those included in it.

The “extended Jewish” category will include any citizen who is not Arab and not Jewish according to Jewish religious law. The CBS said it would also classify groups that are neither culturally Jewish nor Arab in the “extended” category.

This means non-Arab Muslims from Israel’s Circassian community will be listed as “extended Jewish,” as will those of other religious denominations who gain citizenship by marrying Israelis, or immigrate under the law of return, which extends citizenship to anyone with a single Jewish grandparent.

Those previously under the “other” designation comprise up to 4.6 percent of the Israeli population.

The new designation is mostly cosmetic and does not affect classifications at the Interior Ministry, which remain unchanged.

The change was made as a result of an appeal by Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern to the chief statistician and director-general of the CBS, Professor Danny Pepperman.

Stern asked for the change after noticing a CBS report in the lead-up to the Jewish New Year in September that listed populations as Jewish, Arab or “other.”

He claimed that Israel had the goal of converting non-Jews who immigrate, and argued that placing them in an “other” category could push them away.  A spokesperson was unable to elaborate.

In December, the CBS Advisory Committee was convened and accepted Stern’s proposal to stop labeling members of the group as “others.”

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern speaks at a Yesh Atid party conference in Shefayim, on September 22, 2021. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

At the end of 2020, 415,147 Israelis were categorized under “other.”

For 91.4% of them, no religion was registered in the population registry. The remaining 8.6% were registered as Christian.

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.

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