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Israel creates 'Aramean' identity

The Jerusalem Post reports Sept. 17 that Interior Minister Gideon Saar has ordered that the Israel's population registry recognize a separate "Aramean" identity. "Christians who identify with the ancient people can decide to register as Arameans instead of Arabs," the report reads, linking it to the law passed in February that identifies Christians as a minority group separate from Arabs, and gives them their own, unique representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in Employment Commission.

Arameans presumably refers to speakers of Aramaic, which is indeed the indigenous tongue of many Christians in the Middle East—but not in Israel, where Christians today overwhelmingly speak Arabic. A Sept. 3 Haaretz story on the Arameans is headlined "Israeli Christian community, neither Arab nor Palestinian, are fighting to save identity." But the text actually airs some skepticism about this identity:

Roughly 130,000 Christians live in Israel, the vast majority of whom identify as Arabs. They are a tiny minority among the estimated 1.65 million-strong, overwhelmingly Muslim Arab population of the country, whose loyalty to the state is sometimes called into question, especially during the recent war in the Gaza Strip.

Along with members of the Aramean community who do not want to be identified as Israeli Arabs because they don't consider themselves "Arab," there are many others who reject that label, but for very different reasons: They prefer to be called "Palestinian citizens of Israel" rather than "Israeli Arabs," as the Jewish majority tends to define the entire group.

A promoter of the Aramean identity is the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, a movement founded two years ago by Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth.

Nadaf has been condemned widely and even had his life threatened for what many Arabs perceive as cooperating with Israeli government efforts to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims. Moreover, the warm embrace Nadaf and supporters have received from the ruling Likud party and right-wing organizations – because of the community's desire to show its loyalty to the state – has created deep ambivalence among Israelis on the left, concerned about whom this unlikely alliance might be serving.

We are always reluctant to tell people that they don't exist. But, at least, it seems the "Arameans" are being manipulated in a divide-and-rule strategy...

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