Israel's interior minister signed an order on Tuesday recognizing Aramean as a separate national identity in the country's population registry.
The decision will allow about 200 Christian families who identify themselves as belonging to the ancient nationality to register as Arameans rather than as Arabs.
Sa'ar based his decision on three professional opinions, which concluded that the nationality met the conditions required for official recognition, including a historical heritage, religion, culture, origin and common language.
The interior minister's decision is expected to add fuel to the fire brewing in the Knesset over attempts to separate Muslim Israelis from Christian Israelis.
MK Yariv Levin, the coalition chairman who was one of the driving forces behind recognizing the Aramean minority, declared he intended to promote a series of measures meant to distinguish between Christian citizens of Israel and Muslim citizens of Israel, to deepen the involvement of the Christian population in Israeli society and to encourage Christians to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) , made a scathing attack on Sa'ar's decision. "It's a high-handed attempt to divide and rule the Arab minority in Israel," he said. "The Christians are an authentic part of the national Arab Palestinian minority in Israel, and no right-wing political decision will change this fact."
Levin defended the decision, arguing that there are many groups fighting for recognition, and that the Muslim conquest hundreds of years ago "does not make us Arabs."
The Likud MK noted that it was Israel which forced its non-Jewish citizens to register as one group, contrary to their wishes.
"When I allow them to register separately, I am not coercing them to do anything but rather am giving them the option to be who they want to be," he said. "I have no doubt that many will want to do so, and their number will continue to grow. It seems to me that the one who fears this process knows very well why he's afraid."
Some members of the community have served in the IDF and are active in promoting Aramean culture. Shadi Halul, spokesman of the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, ran an Aramean heritage camp at Baram National Park this summer.
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