Israel Table of Contents
The division of Jewish Israelis into ethnic groups is primarily a legacy of the cultural diversity and far-flung nature of the Jewish Diaspora: it is said that Jews have come to modern Israel from 103 countries and speak more than 70 different languages. As in the United States, the immigrants of yesterday became the ethnic groups of today. But Jewish ethnicity troubles many Israelis, and since the late 1950s it has sometimes been viewed as Israel's major social problem.
There are two principal sources of concern. First, in a rather utopian way, Zionism was supposed to bring about the dissolution of the Diaspora and the reconstitution of world Jewry into a single, unified Jewish people. The persistence of cultural diversity-- Jewish ethnicity in a Jewish state--was simply inconceivable. Second, the socialist Labor Zionists assumed that the Jewish society of Israel would be egalitarian, free of the class divisions that plagued Europe. Instead, along with the growing, industrializing economy came the usual divisions of class, stratification, and socioeconomic inequality. These class divisions seemed to coincide with ethnic divisions: certain kinds of ethnic groups were overrepresented in the lowest classes. For utopian thinkers, the persistence of Jewish ethnic groups was troubling enough; their stratification into a class structure was unthinkable.
Data as of December 1988