Prevalence rates of diabetes and its complications may be higher in minorities. We assessed these rates in Jews and Arabs living in Israel. Data were pooled from the first and second Israeli national health interview surveys. 9625 Jews and 2401 Arabs participated in the analysis. The age adjusted rate of self-reported diabetes was 10.7 % among Arabs and 5.7 % among Jews [odds ratio (OR) 2.14, 95 % confidence interval 1.77–2.60]. After adjustment for risk factors the OR decreased to 1.28 (95 % CI 1.04–1.59). The rate of self-reported diabetes-related eye disease was 37.6 % among Arabs with diabetes and 18.3 % among Jews (OR 2.69, 95 % CI 1.84–3.93). After adjustment the odds among Arabs were still double that of Jews (OR 2.26, 95 % CI 1.44–3.56). Self-reported type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related eye disease were higher among Arabs. Multi-disciplinary and cultural sensitive approach is required in order to improve diabetes care among the Arab population.