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ישראלים‎ (Yiśraʾelim)
الإسرائيليين‎ (al-ʾIsrāʾīliyyin)
Flag of Israel.svg
Regions with significant populations
 Israel 8,371,600 (August 2015)[1][2]
 United States 106,839[3] - 500,000[4][5][6]
 India 50,000[7]
 Canada 21,320[8]
 United Kingdom 11,892[9] - 50,000[9][10][11]
 Australia 15,000[12]
 Germany 10,000[13][14][15]
Primarily Hebrew, but also Arabic, Russian, English, French, Amharic, Yiddish
Predominantly Judaism, and minority Islam, Christianity, Druzism, Samaritanism, Bahaism

Israelis (Hebrew: ישראליםYiśraʾelim, Arabic: الإسرائيليين‎‎ al-ʾIsrāʾīliyyin) are citizens or permanent residents of the State of Israel, a multiethnic society that is home to people of different national backgrounds. The largest ethnic groups in Israel are Israeli Jews, followed by Israeli Arabs. Within the Jewish population, the majority are Mizrahim, including several hundred thousand Jews born in Israel, whose family origins hail from multiple diaspora backgrounds; Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and Sephardi.

Large-scale aliyah in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from Jewish diaspora communities in Europe and Yemen and more recent large-scale aliyah from North Africa, Western Asia, North America, South America the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia introduced many new cultural elements and have had profound impact on Israeli culture.

Israelis and people of Israeli descent live all over the world: in the United States, India, Canada, the United Kingdom, throughout Europe, and elsewhere. As many as 750,000 Israelis, about 10 percent of the general population of Israel, are estimated to be living abroad.[16]


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As of 2013, Israel's population is 8 million, of which the Israeli civil government records 75.3% as Jews, 20.7% as non-Jewish Arabs, and 4.0% other.[17] Israel's official census includes Israeli settlers in the occupied territories[18] (referred to as "disputed" by Israel). 280,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements in the Judea and Samaria Area,[18] 190,000 in East Jerusalem,[18] and 20,000 in the Golan Heights.[19]

Among Jews, 70.3% were born in Israel (sabras), mostly from the second or third generation of their family in the country, and the rest are Jewish immigrants. Of the Jewish immigrants, 20.5% were from Europe and the Americas, and 9.2% were from Asia, Africa, and Middle Eastern countries.[17] Nearly half of all Israeli Jews are descended from immigrants from the European Jewish diaspora. Approximately the same number are descended from immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia. Over two hundred thousand are of Ethiopian and Indian-Jewish descent.[20]

The official Israel Central Bureau of Statistics estimate of the Israeli Jewish population does not include those Israeli citizens, mostly descended from immigrants from the Soviet Union, who are registered as "others", or their immediate family members. Defined as non-Jews and non-Arabs, they make up about 3.5% of Israelis (350,000),[21] and were eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.[22][23]

Israel's two official languages are Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is the primary language of government and is spoken by the majority of the population. Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority and by some members of the Mizrahi Jewish community. English is studied in school and is spoken by the majority of the population as a second language. Other languages spoken in Israel include Russian, Yiddish, Spanish, Ladino, Amharic, Armenian, Georgian, Romanian, Polish and French.[citation needed]

In recent decades, between 650,000 and 1,300,000 Israelis have emigrated,[24] a phenomenon known in Hebrew as yerida ("descent", in contrast to aliyah, which means "ascent"). Emigrants have various reasons for leaving, but there is generally a combination of economic and political concerns. Los Angeles is home to the largest community of Israelis outside Israel.[citation needed]

Ethnic and religious groups

The main Israeli ethnic and religious groups are as follows:


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Israeli girls in the 1960s, eating matzotunleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during Passover

The ethnic division of the Jewish population of Israel as of 2009 is as follows.

Makeup of Jewish Population of Israel by Patrilineal Country of Origin[25]
TOTAL 5,818,000 100%
Russia/USSR 1,018,000 20.9%
Poland 400,000 8.3%
Romania 351,000 7.6%
Other Europe 168,000 3.7%
USA/Canada/Australia/NZ 165,000 2.8%
Germany/Austria 160,000 2.7%
Bulgaria/Greece 97,000 1.9%
South America 82,000 1.4%
Hungary 63,000 1.3%
Czechoslovakia 60,000 1.2%
UK/Ireland 40,000 0.4%
South Africa 20,000 0.4%
Morocco 800,000 15.2%
Iraq 404,000 7.7%
Yemen 295,000 4.9%
Iran 236,000 4.0%
Algeria/Tunisia 224,000 3.8%
France 150,000 2.5%
Other Asia 150,000 2.5%
Turkey 147,000 2.5%
Libya 136,000 2.3%
Egypt 112,000 1.9%
Other Asia 200,000 1.7%
India/Pakistan 76,000 1.3%
South America 25,000 0.4%
Other Africa 3,000 0.05%
Ethiopia 130,000 2.2%

Arabic-speaking minorities

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Map of Arab population, 2000


Many Palestinians remained within Israel's borders following the state's establishment and are the largest group of Arabic-speaking and culturally Arab citizens of Israel. Most Palestinian citizens of Israel are Sunni Muslim, although there is a significant Palestinian Christian community as well.

As of 2013, the Arab population of Israel amounts to 1,658,000, about 20.7% of the population.[17] This figure include 209,000 Arabs (14% of the Israeli Arab population) in East Jerusalem, also counted in the Palestinian statistics, although 98 percent of East Jerusalem Palestinians have either Israeli residency or Israeli citizenship.[26]

Negev Bedouin

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The Arab citizens of Israel also include the Bedouin. Israeli Bedouin include those who live in the north of the country, for the most part in villages and towns, and the Bedouin in the Negev, who are semi-nomadic or live in towns or unrecognized Bedouin villages. In 1999, 110,000 Bedouin lived in the Negev, 50,000 in the Galilee and 10,000 in the central region of Israel.[27] As of 2013, the Negev Bedouin number 200,000-210,000.[28][29][30]


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Sheikh Amin Tarif, spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze, c. 1950

There is also a significant population of Israeli Druze, estimated at about 117,500 at the end of 2006.[31] All Druze in British Mandate Palestine became Israeli citizens upon the foundation of the State of Israel.[citation needed]


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There are about 7,000 Maronite Christian Israelis, living mostly in the Galilee but also in Haifa, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. They are mostly pro-Israeli Lebanese former militia members and their families who fled Lebanon after the 2000 withdrawal of IDF from South Lebanon. Some, however, are from local Galilean communities such as Jish.[citation needed]


There are about 1,000 Coptic Israeli citizens.[citation needed]

Other citizens

African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem

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The African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem is a small religious community whose members believe they are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Most of the over 5,000 members live in Dimona, Israel although there are additional, smaller, groups in Arad, Mitzpe Ramon, and the Tiberias area. At least some of them consider themselves to be Jewish, but Israeli authorities do not accept them as such, nor are their religious practices consistent with "mainstream Jewish tradition."[32] The group, which consists of African Americans and their descendants, originated in Chicago in the early 1960s, moved to Liberia for a few years, and then emigrated to Israel.[citation needed]


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Argentines in Israel are the largest immigrant group from Latin America and one of the fastest growing groups. The vast majority of Argentines in Israel are Jewish Argentines who make Aliyah but there is also an important group of non-Jewish Argentines, having, or being married to somebody who has, at least one Jewish grandparent, who choose Israel as their new home. There are about 50,000 Argentines residing in Israel although some estimates put the figure at 70,000.[33][34]

Most Jewish Argentines are Ashkenazi Jews.[citation needed]


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In September 2014, Israel recognized the "Aramean" ethnic identity of hundreds of the Christian citizens of Israel. This recognition comes after about seven years of activity by the Aramean Christian Foundation in Israel – Aram, led by IDF Major Shadi Khalloul Risho and the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, headed by Father Gabriel Naddaf of the Greek-Orthodox Church and Major Ihab Shlayan. The Aramean ethnic identity will now encompass all the Christian Eastern Syriac churches in Israel, including the Maronite Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church and Syriac Orthodox Church.[35][36][37]


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There are about 4,000 Armenian citizens of Israel. They live mostly in Jerusalem, including the Armenian Quarter), but also in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jaffa. Their religious activities center around the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem as well as churches in Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa. Although Armenians of Old Jerusalem have Israeli identity cards, they are officially holders of Jordanian passports.[38]


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There are around 1,000 Assyrians living in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem and Nazareth. Assyrians are an Aramaic speaking, Eastern Rite Christian minority who are descended from the ancient Mesopotamians. The old Syriac Orthodox monastery of Saint Mark lies in Jerusalem. Other than followers of the Syriac Orthodox Church, there are also followers of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church living in Israel.[citation needed]


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Circassians in Kfar Kama

In Israel, there are also a few thousand Circassians, living mostly in Kfar Kama (2,000) and Reyhaniye (1,000).[citation needed] These two villages were a part of a greater group of Circassian villages around the Golan Heights. The Circassians in Israel enjoy, like Druzes, a status aparte. Male Circassians (at their leader's request) are mandated for military service, while females are not.[citation needed]


Although most Finns in Israel are either Finnish Jews or their descendents, a small number of Finnish Christians moved to Israel in the 1940s before the independence of the state and have since gained citizenship. For the most part the original Finnish settlers intermarried with other Israeli communities, and therefore remain very small in number. A moshav near Jerusalem named "Yad HaShmona", meaning the Memorial for the eight, was established in 1971 by a group of Finnish Christian Israelis, though today most members are Israeli, and predominantly Hebrew-speaking.[39][40]

East Europeans

Non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union many of whom are ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Moldovans and Belarusians, who were eligible to immigrate due to having, or being married to somebody who has, at least one Jewish grandparent. A very small number of these immigrants also belong to various non-Slavic ethnic groups from the Former Soviet Union such as Tatars. In addition, a certain number of former Soviet citizens, primarily women of Russian and Ukrainian ethnicity, immigrated to Israel after marrying Arab citizens of Israel who went to study in the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. The total number of those primarily of Slavic ancestry among Israeli citizens is around 300,000.[citation needed]


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The Samaritans are an ethnoreligious group of the Levant. Ancestrally, they claim descent from a group of Israelite inhabitants who have connections to ancient Samaria from the beginning of the Babylonian captivity up to the beginning of the Common Era.[citation needed] Population estimates made in 2007 show that of the 712 Samaritans, half live in Holon in Israel and half at Mount Gerizim in the West Bank. The Holon community holds Israeli citizenship, while the Gerizim community resides at an Israeli-controlled enclave (Kiryat Luza), holding dual Israeli-Palestinian citizenship.[citation needed]


The number of Vietnamese people in Israel is estimated at 200–400.[citation needed] Most of them came to Israel between 1976 and 1979, after the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin granted them political asylum.[citation needed] The Vietnamese people living in Israel are Israeli citizens who also serve in the Israel Defense Forces.[citation needed] Today, the majority of the community lives in the Gush Dan area in the center of Israel but also a few dozen Vietnamese-Israelis or Israelis of Vietnamese origin live in Haifa, Jerusalem and Ofakim.[citation needed]

Naturalized foreign workers

Israel's residents include some naturalized foreign workers and their children born in Israel, predominantly from the Philippines, Nepal, Nigeria, Senegal, Romania, China, Cyprus, Turkey, Thailand and Latin America.[citation needed]


African refugees

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Meeting between Sudanese refugees and Israeli students, 2007

The number and status of African refugees in Israel is disputed and controversial, but it is estimated that at least 16,000 refugees, mainly from Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast, reside and work in Israel. A check in late 2011, published in Ynet reported that the number just in Tel Aviv is 40,000, which represents 10 percent of the city's population. The vast majority lives in the southern parts of the city. There is also a significant African population in the southern Israeli cities of Eilat, Arad and Beer Sheva.[citation needed]

Foreign workers

There are around 300,000 foreign workers, residing in Israel under temporary work visas. Most of these foreign workers engage in agriculture and construction—they are mostly from China, Thailand, the Philippines, Nigeria, Romania and Latin America.[citation needed]

Other refugees

Approximately 100–200 refugees from Bosnia, Kosovo, Kurdistan and North Korea live in Israel as refugees, most of them with Israeli resident status.[41]

Israeli diaspora

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Through the years, the majority of Israelis who emigrated from Israel went to the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

It is currently estimated that there are 330,000 native-born Israelis, including 230,000 Jews, living abroad, or even more.[42] The number of immigrants to Israel who later returned to their home countries or moved elsewhere is more difficult to calculate.

For many years definitive data on Israeli emigration was unavailable.[43] 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."[44]

Among the most common reasons for emigration of Israelis from Israel are most often due to Israel's ongoing security Issues, economic constraints, economic characteristics, disappointment in the Israeli government, as well as the excessive role of religion in the lives of Israelis.[citation needed]

United States

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Many Israelis 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.[citation needed] According to the 2000 United States Census, 106,839 Americans also hold Israeli citizenship, but the number of Americans of Israeli descent is around half a million.[4][5][6]


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Many Israelis 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.[citation needed] According to the Canada 2006 Census as many as 21,320 Israelis lived in Canada in 2006.[8]

United Kingdom

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Many Israelis emigrated to the United Kingdom throughout and since the period of the declaration of the state of Israel. Today, the descendants of these people are known as Israeli-British.[citation needed] According to the United Kingdom 2001 Census, as many as 11,892 Israelis lived in the United Kingdom in 2001. The majority live in London.[citation needed]

2013 Supreme Court ruling on nationality

In 2013 a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court of Israel's headed by Court President Asher Grunis rejected an appeal requesting that state-issued identification cards state the nationality of citizens as "Israeli" rather than their religion of origin. In his opinion, Grunis stated that it was not within the court’s purview to determine new categories of ethnicity or nationhood. The court's decision responded to a petition by Uzzi Ornan, who refused to be identified as Jewish in 1948 at the foundation of the state of Israel, claiming instead that he was "Hebrew." This was permitted by Israeli authorities at the time. However, by 2000, Ornan wanted to register his nationality as "Israeli". The Interior Ministry refused to allow this, prompting Ornan to file a suit. In 2007, Ornan's suit was joined by former minister Shulamit Aloni and other activists.[45] In the ruling, Justice Hanan Melcer noted Israel currently considers "citizenship and nationality [to be] separate."[46]


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The ancient Kingdom of Israel at its greatest extension
David Ben-Gurion publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948

The first account of an Israeli nation[citation needed] is a state which dominated the modern land of Israel, the Kingdom of Israel; its latest capital was known as the Davidian city (Jerusalem).[citation needed] According to the biblical account, the United Monarchy was formed when there was a large popular expression in favour of introducing a monarchy to rule over the previously decentralised Israelite tribal confederacy.[citation needed] Increasing pressure from the Philistines (originally from Greece)[citation needed] and other neighboring tribes is said by the Bible to have forced the Israelites to unite as a more singular state.[citation needed]

Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire until it was taken by British forces in 1918. The British establishment of colonial political boundaries allowed the Jews to develop autonomous institutions such as the Histadrut and the Knesset.[47] Since the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement encouraged Jews to immigrate to Palestine and refurbish its land area, considerable but partially uninhabitable due to an abundance of swamps and desert. The resulting influx of Jewish immigrants, as well as the creation of many new settlements, was crucial for the functioning of these new institutions in what would, on May 14, 1948, become the State of Israel.[48]


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The largest cities in the country Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem are also the major cultural centers, known for art museums, and many towns and kibbutzim have smaller high-quality museums. Israeli music is very versatile and combines elements of both western and eastern, religious and secular music. It tends to be very eclectic and contains a wide variety of influences from the Diaspora and more modern cultural importation: Hassidic songs, Asian and Arab pop, especially by Yemenite singers, and Israeli hip hop or heavy metal. Folk dancing, which draws upon the cultural heritage of many immigrant groups, is popular. There is also flourishing modern dance.[citation needed]

Religion in Israel

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According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2014, 75% of Israelis were Jewish by religion (adherents of Judaism), 17.5% were Muslims, 2% Christian, 1.6% Druze and the remaining 3.9% (including immigrants were not classified by religion.[49]

Roughly 12% of Israeli Jews defined as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9% are "religious"; 35% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish religious law); and 43% are "secular" (termed "hiloni"). Among the seculars, 53% believe in God. However, 78% of all Israelis (and virtually all Israeli Jews) participate in a Passover seder.[50]

Unlike North American Jews, Israelis 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. Israeli religious life, unlike much of North American Jewish life, does not solely revolve around synagogues or religious community centers.[citation needed]

Among Arab Israelis, 82.6% were Muslim (including Ahmadis[51]), 8.8% were Christian and 8.4% were Druze.[52]

The Bahá'í World Centre, which includes the Universal House of Justice, in Haifa attracts pilgrims from all over the world.[53]


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Signs in Israel in Hebrew, Arabic and English, including one that was vandalized to remove the Arabic text

Due to its immigrant nature, Israel is one of the most multicultural and multilingual societies in the world. Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages in the country, while English and Russian are the two most widely spoken non-official languages. Yiddish (2%) and French (2%) are also spoken.[54] A certain degree of English is spoken widely, and is the language of choice for many Israeli businesses.[citation needed] Courses of Hebrew and English are mandatory in the Israeli matriculation exams (bagrut), and most schools also offer one or more out of Arabic, Spanish, German or French.[citation needed] The Israeli government also offers free intensive Hebrew-language courses, known as ulpanim (singular ulpan), for new Jewish immigrants, to try to help them integrate into Israeli society.[citation needed]

See also


  1. This figure includes Israelis living in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied territories
  3. Ancestry: 2000
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  8. 8.0 8.1 Immigrant population by place of birth and period of immigration (2006 Census), Statistics Canada
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  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 [1], Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, CBS
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  24. Andrew I. Killgore."Facts on the Ground: A Jewish Exodus from Israel" Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2004, pp.18-20
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  27. The Bedouin in Israel: Demography Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1 July 1999
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  31. Table 2.2, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2007, No. 58.
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  38. Joyce M. Davis. Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter. Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
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  43. Henry Kamm. "Israeli emigration inspires anger and fear;" New York Times January 4, 1981
  44. Stephen J. Gold. The Israeli Diaspora; Routledge 2002, p.8
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  47. Migdal, p. 135
  48. Migdal, p. 136
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  50. Religion in Israel: A Consensus for Jewish Tradition by Daniel J. Elazar (JCPA)
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External links