In February, Israel’s Knesset adopted new legislation meant “to distinguish between Muslim and Christian Arab citizens and to heighten involvement of Christians in Israeli society,” according to its sponsor, MP Yariv Levin.
Providing separate attention and separate representation to Palestinian Christians holding Israeli citizenship is supposed to connect them more strongly to the Jewish State, while critics denounce the new legislation as an attempt to create more divisions among Palestinians, writes Emily Hauser in a Forward blog post (March 3).
According to an article by Joanna Paraszczuk in the Jerusalem Report (June 2), Arab citizens of Israel currently number around 1.57 million (20 percent of the population). A large majority of Israeli Arabs are Muslims (82 percent), while Druzes make 8 percent and Christians 10 percent (belonging to various denominations). There has been a slight growth of the Christian population in Israel in 2012 (3,000 more), which contrasts with the shrinking of the Christian population in other areas of the Middle East.
Most Arab Christians interviewed by Paraszczuk do not show much interest in the new legislation and are suspicious about being recruited as “natural allies” of the Jewish State. Some sectors of the Christian population in Israel have, however, welcomed the new developments, which they see as paving the way to full integration into Israeli society. In July 2013, a group of Christians founded a new party, B’nei B’rit Hahadasha (Sons of the New Testament).
Among other things, it encourages Christians to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (military service is not mandatory for Arabs in Israel). Members of the party are reported to emphasize an Israeli identity as Christians, and some distance themselves from an Arab identity, thus approving the separate approach promoted by the new law.
In 1957, Israel recognized its Druze population as a distinct minority, and most Druze men serve in the military. While they speak Arabic, many of them no longer feel part of the Palestinian community. Critics of the new law claim its purpose is to reach the same goal with the Christian minority.
(Forward, http://www.forward.com; The Jerusalem Report, http://www.jpost.com/JerusalemReport/Home.aspx)