Israeli ethnicities


Cartoon drawings on the outside wall of a kindergarten in Freiburg, Germany, show one of the better things that has  occurred there and elsewhere since WWII. They show Black,  Blond, and Brown children standing alongside one another.

Those who aren't friendly to Israel, including some Jews, think that a country for the Jews goes against the trends of integration and accommodation across religions, races, and ethnicity. Extremists, including some Jews, say that Israel should remove its designation as being Jewish, should become "a country for all if its people," or be wiped off the map. 
Actually, Israel's existence and practices stand alongside those pictures on the kindergarten wall, as one of the better things that has happened since WWII.
Jews needed a refuge from the evil that had reached its historic heights from Germans and their friends across Europe, as well as what occurred with somewhat less frenzy and industrial skill across the Middle East.
What's happened in Israel since then could be portrayed with similar drawings as that on the Freiburg kindergarden. Jews have come from all over, and have mixed as the kids went from initial ethnic enclaves to school, and then to the army, and then to university and/or work. The blood running through our Israeli relatives comes from roots in Germany, Iraq, and Eastern Europe. Walking the neighborhood we encounter one couple that is Yemeni and Russian, French and Spanish accents, a family that is part Afghan, and one set of friends whose backgrounds are Siberia and Madagascar. 
Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics show considerable intermarriage among the Jews of Israel from different ethnic backgrounds. It's especially prominent among secular Israelis, and least apparent among the ultra-Orthodox, stuck in their congregations' concern for their own traditions, as well as parental selection of marriage partners for their children.
There are Arabs living among us in French Hill, and discussing issues of mutual interest when we meet and walk together. 
Visits to my place of former employment on Mt Scopus puts me in streams of walkers that included overseas students with a high incidence of East Asians and Europeans, along with Arabs identified as religious/traditional by their clothes or dressed as secular Israelis, as well as beautiful Ethiopians and lots of other Jews of who knows what backgrounds.
Those who use the term Apartheid in connection with Israel are ignorant and/or evil.
Tensions remain.
A prominent source is Palestinian enmity, surviving at a mixed level of strength along with recent accommodation between Israeli officials and those of important Arab governments. Hostility is mixed in the sense of occasional violence, along with surveys showing that majorities of Israeli Arabs (with citizenship) as well as East Jerusalem Arabs (who have mostly avoided citizenship) prefer remaining Israeli than joining Palestine.
Critics say that Israel is too harsh in response to violence. Worthies condemn the walls built in response to Intifada II, which caused over a thousand Israeli deaths, as well as the selective sniper fire that has claimed over one hundred lives in response to the recent turmoil from Gaza. 
Those with better ideas for self defense are invited to make suggestions, provided they describe how to deal more gently with people who hide behind children and amidst the smoke of burning tires, drive their cars into bus stops, or encourage teenage girls to attack soldiers with kitchen knives.
The government has recently discussed "solutions" for what's perceived as a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Reasonable conclusions are that Israel is the major source of supply to Gaza. Hamas rivals in Fatah, i.e., Palestinians in control of Palestine-West Bank, have cut off financial aid to Gaza, and Egypt has cut its contribution to Gazan electricity.
Israelis quarrel as to how serious is the Gazan crisis, how much it differs if at all from what is typical of the Third World, and how much more Israel should do in the face of chronic violence.
Seventy years into the history of the Israeli state, and 30 years beyond the most recent migrations of Russian speakers and Ethiopians, it appears that ethnicity is less important in defining Israeli Jews than religiosity. 
The generation of Russian speakers who actually came from the former Soviet Union, as distinguished from their Israeli-born children, remain distinctive by virtue of their accents and culture. Ethiopians remain at the bottom of socio-economic measures. However, Russian speaking kids have flooded the universities and colleges, are well represented in the upper reaches of distinction. Ethiopians are behind them, but that's to be expected from their backgrounds. They also appear in increasing numbers in institutions of higher education and the IDF officer corps, as well as showing other indications of a social and economic progress. It's reasonable to bet that, as in the case of Yemenites whose grandparents also came from deep within the Third World, that the near future of Ethiopians will reflect Israelis' emphasis on individual potential and accomplishment rather than skin tone.
Where there is the least integration/assimilation in Israel is among the ultra-Orthodox. Parochialism may be more characteristic of the Ashkenazim among them than the Sephardim. However, the Sephardim among the ultra-Orthodox have tended to adopt the dress as well as the social and political attitudes of the Ashkenazim.
Ultra-Orthodox separation is voluntary rather than enforced from others. It is most prominent and influential in avoiding secular education at the lower levels, military service, higher education and--among many of the men--gainful or tax paying employment. Ultra-Orthodox families seek housing in ultra-Orthodox towns or neighborhoods, where their rabbis influence the products sold in the shops, the newspapers in the kiosks, and the behavior tolerated on Sabbath and religious holidays. Insofar as it is through each of these venues that the ethnicities of Israel have blended and blurred, the insistence of the ultra-Orthodox on their distinctiveness and separation contributes greatly to their continued isolation/parochialism.
Where the ultra-Orthodox have accepted integration in the Israeli whole is politics. They vote, usually according to rabbinical dictates and discipline, and in ways that contributes to public support for their isolation in every other field. The key indicators are exemptions from military service, school curricula that is largely if not exclusively religious, special deals on taxation, welfare benefits, water and electricity bills, collective purchase opportunities for food and other consumer goods, and low-cost housing built in ways to facilitate their religious observance via balconies suitable for a succah, and streets closed to traffic on the Sabbath and religious holidays.
Differences among Israel's non-Jews are also prominent. Those concerned to maintain their separation are non-Bedouin Arabs, Bedouin, Druze, Circassians, and Christians. There are further distinctions among Christian sects and among Bedouin and other Arab extended families or clans. All of these divisions affect who associate and marry with whom, and in some cases come along with disputes based on property, insults, or injury that produce significant violence.
A picture of Israeli kindergartens could show the same drawings of different colored kids studying and playing together that are on the wall of the Freiburg kindergarten. However, Hebrew and Arabic speaking kids are likely to be in their own schools, as would the ultra-Orthodox, with many of them studying in Hebrew, but some in Yiddish. 
Comments welcome
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
[email protected]