Muslim population grows 3.1% per year

Government assailed for under-representation of Arabs, Muslims

muslims praying 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
muslims praying 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Muslim population in Israel stands at 1.142 million, or 16 percent of the overall population, the Central Bureau of Statistics announced Sunday. Arabs, including Druse, make up 20% of the population. However, even as their numbers rise, their representation in government positions does not reflect it - despite government resolutions for affirmative action. In May 2000, the Knesset passed a law promising fair representation of the Arab population on the boards of directors of government companies. But by 2003, that law was far from being implemented. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as head of the Ministerial Committee on Arab Affairs, tried to push it further that year by passing a 2003 cabinet decision which stated that by August 2004 there must be at least one Arab member on each of the 105 boards of directors. He added that until a corporation had at least one Arab it could not appoint a Jew. At the time of that decision there were 38 Arabs holding such seats. But by November 2005, only 50 of the 551 directorate seats were filled by Arabs. "The government is not implementing the laws of the Knesset, nor is it implementing the decisions it made itself," said Ali Haider, co-executive director of Sikkuy, an organization working for equality between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens. "This indicates a real lack of desire to change the reality of discrimination in regard to Arab citizens," said Haider. Also in 2000, the Knesset passed a law that required fair representation of Arab citizens of Israel in the civil service. That, too, was not implemented. According to a report published in 2005 by the Civil Service Commission, 3,154 - or 5.5% - of all government employees (some 56,000 workers) are Arabs. "There are thousands of talented Arabs with many university degrees who are interested in joining the civil service," said Haider. "The situation is much better than what it was before the term of the prime minister," said Asaf Shariv, the prime minister's spokesman. "However, it still has not achieved a satisfactory level." Haider said that the five-year wait since the law was passed has been far too long. "We are not even at half of what [Sharon] determined as his goal," said Haider. The actual number of Arab citizens is somewhat less than the number of Arabs reported by the CBS as residing in Israel. Most of the quarter of a million Muslim Palestinian Jerusalemites - the overwhelming majority of whom are Arabs - are not citizens of the state but hold residency only. They can vote for the mayor but not for the Knesset. Nazareth is the city with the largest Israeli Arab population. It has 63,800 Arabs, 68% of whom are Muslim. Jerusalem has the largest Muslim and Arab population. The majority of Israel's Muslim citizens live in the North, with a total of 433,500, which is equal to 39.1% of the population there. Jews living in the area make up only 9.9% of the population. Haifa is home to 158,700 Muslims and Tel Aviv is home to 12,500. Muslim women are giving birth to fewer children than they once did, according to the CBS statistics. In the last five years, their birth rate has dropped by 8%, from 4.74 children per woman in 2000 to 4.36 in the year 2004. The decrease is most prominent among women between the ages of 25-34. Still, the number is higher than that of Muslims in other countries: in Syria, Muslim women have an average of 3.8 children.