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Israelis to be included in proposed Mena US census category

If the proposed changes are approved, Israelis will no longer fall under the 'white' category
The official US Census form pictured on 18 March 2010 in Washington, DC (AFP)

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, which would create a category for Mena residents. The census, which takes place every 10 years, maps out the US population and details its demographic features.

The US currently categorises people with origins from the Mena region as white, though many people descending from the region do not identify as such. In addition to a new box to check on forms, the proposal would change the government's definition of "white", and it would no longer include people with Mena origins.

Since Israel is in the Middle East, those who are "Israeli" will no longer be categorised under the “white” category and instead would be classified under the “Mena” category. There seems to be no clear distinction between Jewish and Israeli put forth as of yet. 

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

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

“I have always put ‘white’ in the surveys and forms. That’s because I am white and I don’t consider myself anything else,” Lara Karras, an American Jew, told MEE.

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

Biden administration proposes Mena category to US census
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Karras said that when she thinks of the word "Mena", she thinks of Arabs and Africans - not herself.

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

The journey of ‘Mena’ category 

The proposal comes after the White House's 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 help ensure they "better reflect the diversity of the American people". The review is expected to be completed by the Summer of 2024.

Until then, OMB is asking for members of the public to weigh in on the matter with their feedback by 12 April. The working group says the information will be factored into their final recommendations.

In 1997, OMB guidance decided against adding the Mena category and instead reported data collected on individuals from the Mena region within its "white" reference category.

In 2015, the bureau tested a Mena category for the 2020 census, and in 2017 recommended adding the category. But the administration of US President Donald Trump overruled the recommendation.

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 the federal data collection on race and ethnicity to include a Mena response category.

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