Friday, January 2, 2015

A look at Israel

With the coming election in Israel, I thought it might be wise to introduce those unfamiliar with the country to Israel; in particular it's people, it's politics, and some of it's history.

Israel is divided into a number of districts for domestic purposes. These are not like provinces or states, there is, for example, no "Premier of the Northern District" or "Southern District Governor". These areas are mostly for statistical purposes, and help when discussing Israel and it's various areas.

Gaza, which is located in the leftmost area of the map, is not a district of Israel (and thus, is not shown) Judea and Samaria, which many call the West Bank, is. There is one key difference however, and this is one of the key reasons I've decided to discuss this topic.

East Jerusalem is considered by Israel to be not only part of the Municipality of Jerusalem, but an integral part of Israel, and as such, a part of the Jerusalem District.

East Jerusalem, however, is considered by most countries to not be a part of Israel, and rather, a part of the West Bank.

Saying Judea and Samaria as opposed to the West Bank is a short way of saying "The West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem"; though, in fairness, most usages of the West Bank these days implies the lack of East Jerusalem, but this is not universal.

The Golan Heights is an area held for military reasons, specifically an area taken from Syria, that Syria still claims. It's status is complicated; as Israel has a different times decided to return it to Syria, and to place Settlements on it.

Populations of these areas are as follows:
Golan Heights - 20,000 & 90,000*
Northern District - 1,300,000
Haifa District - 930,000
Center District - 1,770,000
Tel Aviv District - 1,340,000
Jerusalem District - 1,020,000 /w 325,000**
Southern District - 1,150,000
Judea and Samaria - 360,000 & 2,790,000*

* = These are non citizens of Israel, and, not counted in Israeli population counts.
** = Non-citizens by choice, but are counted.

I've created a table below to expand on the above. I've used some terms to try to differentiate between the various groups; I will explain what each term means.

Before I do so, I want to note a disclaimer; I use these terms to simplify the chart, I am aware the terms are inaccurate, but they are, for their length, the most accurate terms I can use.

The terms are as follows:

Israeli - This references Israeli Jews, but also includes some non-Arab christian (IE Russian Christians in the Southern District)
Arab - This references Arab citizens of Israel.
Palestinian - This references all non-citizens of Israel most of whom are also Arab. This term is also "inaccurate" because the non-citizen Arab residents of the Golan Heights are Syrian; however, to simplify the char and reduce the amount of columns and rows needed, I am using this term.

Note as well the chart includes the Gaza Strip as to give a sense of the total population of the area.

A reminder, as this is election season, that "Arabs" have a vote just the same as "Israelis" do, but "Palestinians" do not.

Around 20% of Jews in Israel are Sephardi, or, those from (or more accurately, the descendants of those who were driven out of) Spain and Portugal.
Around 40% are Mizrahi, or, those from (or, again, descendants of those driven from) the Arab world
And around 40% are Ashkenazi, or, those from (same disclaimer) Europe.

Around 40% of Jews in the world live in Israel, Another 40% live in the United States, and 20% live in other countries, including France, the UK, Russia, and Canada (roughly 4% each) Of those who live outside Israel, the overwhelming and vast majority are Ashkenazi.

For the record, some notable Sephardi Jews include but are not limited to; former UK PM Benjamin Disraeli, Israeli Opposition Leader Amir Peretz, and Philosopher Jacques Derrida.
Notable Mizrahi include but are not limited to; Current Opposition and Labour leader Issac Herzog, Entertainer Jerry Seinfeld, and the Sassoon family, including hairdressing businessman Vidal Sassoon.

As noted in the table above, there are 1.3 million Arab citizens in Israel, compared to 6.2 million Jews. By that logic, an Arab party should be able to take 17% of the vote, or, 21 seats, why then is the combined Arab list polling closer to 11?

There are a few reasons. Some Arabs in Israel do not feel very connected to the state, they do not vote, and thus are less likely to turn out. Others are very connected to the state, and vote for "zionist" parties; especially those parties running on economic policies, or those who are pro-peace. The remaining difference can be explained by the simple fact that Arabs in Israel tend to have more children; thus a higher proportion of that 1.3 million is people too young to vote.

Note though a few important demographic facts.

1 - The Northern District is a majority Arab. These are Arabs who have the same rights and same vote as Jewish Israelis. With the Arab population of Israel continuing to grow, this has put pressure on some in the Jewish community to do what they can to ensure Israel remains a "Jewish State"; hence the reason for this election - which I will go in to greater in a later post.

2 - Opposition to a "One State" solution in Israel is also on the numbers. In a combined single state, even before the return of any Palestinian refugees, the majority of citizens would be Non-Jews. Consider that in 2006, Hamas got 440,000 votes, and Fatah got 410,000. Compare to the 2006 Israeli election where Kadima got 690,000, and Labour took 472,000, and you start to see the sort of situation it could create.

3 - Perhaps oddly for a country under Proportional Representation, parts of Israel are highly fractured. Some towns and cities vote heavily for one party or another. Ultra-Orthodox parties, for example, do very well in Jerusalem, and very poorly in Tel Aviv, while the reverse happens with moderate parties focused on economic issues.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the country behind the politics. Keep checking your bookmark for further updates on Israel, including a post about the various parties, where they stand, and where they came from, and a post about the history of Israel and why it is involved in conflict.

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