Israel was founded as a refuge for the world’s Jewish community. At the time of its founding in 1948, indigenous Christians numbered almost 20 percent of the non-Jewish population. But war between Arabs and Israel provoked a massive refugee crisis, leading tens of thousands of Palestinians — many of them Christian — to flee. Today, more than three quarters of Israel’s eight million residents are Jewish. Christians comprise a small minority, estimated to count for about 2 percent of the population, or roughly 170,000 people. This number accounts only for indigenous Christians — mostly Arab Israelis, Armenian Israelis and a handful of Jewish converts.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is the largest Christian community. Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic and Maronite parishes remain in the Galilee and in cities such as Haifa and Nazareth.
Yet many Israeli Christians are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. These immigrants arrived in Israel under the Law of Return, which provides for Israeli citizenship if a person has a Jewish grandparent. It is unclear how many are Christian, but some observers suggest a number in excess of 300,000 — primarily Orthodox Christian Slavs from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
Israel is also home to Eritreans and Ethiopians, Filipinos and Indians, Moldavians and Romanians. Some are undocumented domestic workers, largely Christian, drawn to the country by dreams of a better life and more promising economic opportunities.
It is estimated that Israel’s undocumented migrant community may include more than 60,000 Christians.