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Israeli’s fess up: Mohammed most popular name

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ANT KATZ

VOX.com reports on an unusual story they picked up from Haaretz – the most common baby name for boys in Israel in 5774 was Mohammed. The Israeli government had first told Haaretz that it was Yosef.

“The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported a bit of an odd story on Sunday,” wrote VOX, “Mohammed is the most common name for new-born boys in Israel in the last Jewish calendar year.”

An official Israeli government report had said it was Yosef. It seems the story hit on delicate issues of Israeli identity, where Arab citizens are a significant minority – but where many neighbouring Palestinians also cross the border to have their babies in Israeli hospitals.

As it turned out, the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority report only counted Hebrew names, not Arabic ones. What’s more, they lumped in some Arabic names with similar Hebrew ones: every baby with the Arabic name Yusef, for instance, got counted as Yosef (they spelled the same in Hebrew).

The Israeli government was quick to deny that there was any malice involved. Government spokesperson Sabine Hadad told Haaretz: “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.”

Hadad added that contrary to the assumptions of Haaretz, “there is no plot to deliberately hide information.”

As proof, she said, when the Haaretz reporter requested the complete list, “it was given to him within a few minutes.”

What is the underlying story?

Essentially, the Israelis are saying there were requests for lists of popular Hebrew names but not Arabic ones.

In the grand scheme of Israeli politics, this isn’t much more than a curio.

But still, the fact that a list of baby names can feel controversial illustrates just how unsettled the question of “Israeli” identity is — especially given that demographics and birth rates are a critically important issue for Israelis.

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