Israelis to be included in proposed Mena US census category

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Israelis could be considered in the proposed “Middle Eastern or North African” category in the 2030 US census and federal government surveys if the proposal is approved.

In January, the Biden administration proposed changes to the upcoming US census that would create a category for Mena residents. The census, which takes place every 10 years, maps the US population and details its demographic characteristics.

The US currently categorizes people with origins in the Mena region as white, although many people who come from the region do not identify as such. As well as a new box to check forms, the proposal would change the government’s definition of “white”, and would no longer include people of Mena origin.

Since Israel is in the Middle East, those who are “Israeli” would no longer be classified under the “white” category and would instead be classified under the “Mena” category. It seems that no clear distinction between Jews and Israel has been made yet.

There are 19 subcategories under the Mena section, including Palestinian and Israeli as well as Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian and Algerian – among many others.

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But many Israelis consider themselves white. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is also included in the European Leagues, a sports organization that includes 29 countries.

“I always put ‘blank’ in the surveys and forms. It’s because I’m white and I don’t count for anything else,” Lara Karras, an American Jew, told MEE.

Nearly 92 percent of American Jews describe themselves as white and non-Hispanic, and eight percent say they belong to another racial or ethnic group, says a Pew Research Center report.

The Biden administration proposes a Mena category to the US census

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Karras said when she thinks of the word “Mena”, she thinks of Arabs and Africans – not herself.

“I think it’s cheap. Israelis need not be included in this category. We are not the minority,” she said. “The US government should stop supporting Israel in everything, especially their payroll.”

The ‘Mena’ category tour

The proposal comes after the White House Office of Budget and Management (OMB) announced that the Biden administration was beginning a formal review of the government’s standards for race and ethnicity statistics to ensure they “better reflect the diversity of the American people “. The review is expected to be completed by Summer 2024.

Until then, OMB is asking members of the public to consider the issue and receive their feedback by April 12. The working group says the information will be factored into their final recommendations.

In 1997, OMB guidance decided not to add a Mena category and instead reported data collected on individuals from the Mena region within its “white” reference category.

In 2015, the bureau tested the Mena category for the 2020 census, and in 2017 proposed adding the category. But the administration of US President Donald Trump rejected the proposal.

In 2022, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Carolyn Maloney sent a letter to the OMB and the US Census Bureau, urging them to update the standards for federal data collection on race and ethnicity to include the Mena response category.

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