How Many Israelis Are There in America? Let Us Count the Ways to Answer That

While a U.S. census puts the number at about 140,000, some Israeli advocacy groups claim the total is five times that many.

NEW YORK – The U.S. Census Bureau will soon begin testing ways of adding Middle East-North Africa to its race categories on the 2020 census. But it has long tracked Middle Eastern populations here through a variety of other surveys conducted by the federal government, like the American Community Survey.

Based on data gathered in surveys from 2011 to 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are 139,980 Israelis in America, with about 77,800 of them born in the United States and 62,150 foreign born.

It also estimates that there are 470,000 Iranians in America, 493,000 Lebanese, just over 229,000 Egyptians and about 161,500 Syrians.

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Yet advocacy organizations for Israeli-Americans report a far larger population.

The Israel American Council analyzed estimates from several sources in 2013 and concluded that there are between 500,000 and 800,000 Israelis in America, said Sagi Balasha, CEO of the group.

Included in the count were the spouses, children and grandchildren of Israelis, he said. “The question is language based. If the Hebrew language is spoken in a household by one parent, the children will inherit and be part of the Israeli culture,” he said. The IAC has seven chapters across the United States, from L.A. to New York and South Florida.

Moatza Mekomit, another organization which represents Israeli American interests in the United States, estimates that there are about 650,000 Israeli Americans here, with 150,000 in the New York area, said its chairperson, Oren Heiman.

Those are “hugely distorted numbers,” said Steven Gold, a sociology professor at Michigan State University, who studies Israelis here. “Every immigrant group has these exaggerated numbers. Oftentimes people who make the estimates represent the community and want to make it seem important. Inflating the figure makes the number seem more serious. But even when the number includes children of Israelis who are born in the U.S. the actual figure doesn’t approximate those numbers,” Gold told Haaretz.

Prof. Steven Gold of Michigan State University (Photo credit: Lisa Gold)

“There are not enough Israelis in the world to accommodate all the estimates made of Israelis living outside of Israel,” says David Mallach, managing director of UJA-Federation of New York’s Commission on the Jewish People.

A 2009 study commissioned by UJA-Federation found there were about 30,000 Israeli-born Jews living in New York and 100,000 in the United States, Mallach said.

Of the number counted by advocacy groups for Israelis in the States, Mallach said, “a lot of the people they include have married Americans and have children who are credibly living in Israeli households. But those kids are not Israelis. A kid who goes to Scarsdale High School is not the same as his parent who went to high school in Tel Aviv.”

David Mallach of UJA-Federation of New York (Photo credit: Courtesy)