The Jewish New Year—Rosh Hashanah—came and went last week. The New Year being a time of reflection in the form of top ten lists of the year’s greatest hits, Israel published a list of the year’s ten most popular baby names in the country. The only problem is—it omitted number one. “According to this list, Yosef was the most popular boy’s name, followed by Daniel, Ori, Itai, Omer, Adam, Noam, Ariel, Eitan and David,” Haaretz reported last week. That's not quite accurate however, as the New York Times pointed out on Tuesday, “Muhammad was by far the most popular name for babies born in Israel last year: 1,986 boys shared the name of the Muslim prophet.”
Sabine Haddad, spokeswoman for Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority— the department that published the list—told the Times “the missing Muhammads [were] something between a mistake and a misunderstanding."
The list, she said, was simply a response to requests "for Hebrew names" in conjunction with the start of "the Hebrew New Year." It would have been better, she acknowledged, to put an asterisk noting that what she called "obviously Arabic names" were left off. "There was no intention, no political intention," Ms. Haddad said in an interview.
Haaretz notes: “The authority put out a similar list last year, also without citing the fact that it included only Hebrew names, and nor did it issue a separate list relating to the Arab population.” And in that omission Haaretz sees a larger issue at play. Here’s more:
No distinctly-Arab baby name made it to the top 10 of popular baby names in Israel (Yosef and Adam are common among both Jews and Arab-Israelis), although Arabs account for 20% of Israel’s population. On the face of it, the omission smacks of a deliberate attempt to exclude the Arab population of Israel from yet another thing Israeli. Yet this isn’t a matter of simple, blatant racism. It’s worse. It’s denial. Denial of what? First of all of Arabs, of course. Failing to acknowledge the existence of its big Arab population is a much subtler of exclusion, and in a way worse than outright racism: at least when we discriminate, we acknowledge the other.