Jewish majority in Israel drops as non-Jewish immigration jumps

More than 56,000 new citizens over past year marked themselves as having ‘no religion.’

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A report by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) showed a drop in the Jewish majority in Israel since last Independence Day and pointed to the phenomenon of non-Jewish immigration as the cause, Israel National News reported Thursday.

While last year, Jews made up 73.9% of the population, by April 2023 the percentage dropped to 73.5%. The CBS report showed that some 56,000 immigrants who came since Israel’s 74th Independence Day had marked “other” in the religion box of their entry records. This non-Jewish population currently stands at 534,000, or 5.5% of those living in Israel. The rest of the population, 21%, is Muslim.

Many of these newcomers came from Ukraine and Russia, following Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbor in February 2022, which has no end in sight as yet.

The phenomenon of growing non-Jewish immigration is not new.

According to the Population and Immigration Authority’s statistics, from 2012-2019, out of some 180,000 people who immigrated via the Law of Return, only 14% of them were recognized as being Jewish according to halachah, Jewish law.

Out of those coming from the former Soviet Union, who make up the majority of the immigrants in absolute numbers, it was even less, with only 4.3% of immigrants from Russia being Jews.

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A study published last August by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center, based on CBS data, showed that the percentage of Jews coming from that region has steadily fallen over the last 20 years.

Dr. Yona Cherki of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center (IPC) that promotes an immigration policy which serves the strategic interests of the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, said the data was a cause for concern.

“The dramatic trends of the reduction of the Jewish majority in Israel in favor of increasing the population of the “others,” who are not Arabs and are not Jewish, are very worrying,” he told INN.

Wednesday’s celebration of Israeli Independence Day, Cherki added, “serves as a reminder of the basis of the existence” of the state, as well as of “its purpose [to be] the state of the Jewish people.”

Yet, he said, “The accelerated demographic trends that we have witnessed in recent decades, and especially in recent years, place the vision of the identity of the State of Israel in tangible danger.”

There is a solution at hand, he said.

“The main non-Jewish immigration to Israel is immigration according to the Law of Return, which receives support from the official aliya bodies…. As long as the elected representatives do not act actively and determinedly to amend the Law of Return, [this] trend… will only grow.”

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Emendation of the Law of Return has been proposed by members of Israel’s current government, with Orthodox members of the coalition having already talked about repealing the “grandchild clause,” which allows non-Jewish children and even grandchildren of a Jew to become citizens. As it currently stands, the law also gives rights of citizenship to the non-Jewish spouses of those up to the third generation.