List of Popular Israeli Names Reveals Institutionalized Racism

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The Islamic Prophet Mohammed.Credit: Wikicommons

Is Yosef the most popular name in Israel? At first glance, it seems the answer is yes – at least according to the list of “this year’s most popular names for newborns” published on Sunday by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority. But an investigation by Haaretz discovered that names which are clearly Arabic were removed from the list.

The investigation also discovered that among the Israeli population as a whole, the most popular name in the year that ends this week (according to the Hebrew calendar) was actually Mohammed, while Ahmed was in ninth place. From the population authority’s perspective, omitting these Arab names came as a matter of course. “The statistics published were the statistics requested during the past few years by everyone who contacted us to obtain this information, and for that reason the list relating to the most popular Hebrew names was issued,” said its spokeswoman, Sabine Haddad.

Haddad is right. Why should a government agency in Israel, which is supposed to serve the entire population, bother to publish a list that relates to the entire population? Why should it take 20 percent of the population into account when the rest of the population, which constitutes the ruling hegemony, only requests information about itself?

It’s interesting to discover that names like Yosef/Yusef for boys (which are spelled the same way in Hebrew), or Lian, Miriam/Maryam and Maya for girls, were actually popular among both Jewish and Arab Israelis. In this case, the Population and Immigration Authority counted the entire population, since these are not obviously Arab names.

The Population and Immigration Authority claims there was “no plot to deliberately hide information,” and as proof it cited the fact that “when your reporter asked to receive the complete list, it was given to him within a few minutes.” That is reminiscent of the way television ratings data used to be published. The ratings committee would send out two tables: one relating to “the entire population,” and one relating to “Jews only.” Both the media and the advertising agencies typically paid attention only to the “Jews only” table – the media because including the Arabs lowered their prime-time ratings, and the advertising agencies because they weren’t trying to target the Arab community anyway.

Just as Arab parties aren’t taken into account when a new governing coalition is formed and major diplomatic steps aren’t taken without a Jewish majority, the list of most popular names and the television ratings tables both constitute another form of racism, which in Israel has become institutionalized and self-evident. Nobody should have to make a special request to the Population and Immigration Authority to get it to include the names of the entire population. That is the one and only list an egalitarian, democratic state should publish.

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