Text size

The proposal by some members of the Knesset to strip the Arab language of its current status as one of the official languages of the State of Israel is a senseless move and, what's more, a sign of disrespect toward the more than one million citizens of Israel whose mother tongue is Arabic.

It is difficult to fathom what got into the heads of some legislators to propose this change. Why demonstrate such lack of respect for our Arab citizens at a time when the most important challenge facing Israel is to integrate its Arab citizens into Israeli society and to make them feel at home in Israel?

Adopting the language of a minority population as one of the official languages of a country is a common thing in this day and age. It is a demonstration by the majority population of sympathy, consideration and respect for the minority.

Members of Knesset who take the trouble to check the Google search engine on the Internet may be surprised to find that many countries in the world have recognized minority languages as official languages - in some cases, even the languages of very small minorities. For example, Finland, next door to its larger Swedish neighbor, recognizes Swedish as an official language.

The Arab citizens of Israel are not a small minority by any means. Why propose this change in the status of the Arab language in Israel after 63 years in which Arabic has shared an equal status with Hebrew as an official language of the country?

It is true that the majority of Israel's Arab citizens speak Hebrew. And it is unfortunately equally true that a large majority of Israel's Jewish citizens do not speak Arabic. It is this very asymmetry that needs to be corrected.

Jewish school children should be taught to master the Arab language. The fact that this has not been achieved in all these years is a failure of the Israeli educational system. It is no less serious than the relatively low scores that Israeli school children attain in the international scholastic tests.

Considering the vast language teaching experience that Israel has accumulated over the years in teaching new immigrants the Hebrew language, this failure, even though hours are devoted to teaching Arabic in our schools, can only be an indication that the Ministry of Education has never taken this important task seriously.

The study of Arabic should be made compulsory in the school system, and mastery of the language should be a requirement for graduation from high school. The study of Arabic by adults should be encouraged; and for civil servants, knowledge of Arabic should be a factor when being considered for promotion.

Even though Hebrew is being spoken nowadays by almost everybody in Israel - Jews and Arabs - Jewish children need to acquire mastery of the Arab language not only so as to be able to communicate better with Israel's Arab citizens, but more importantly, as a sign of Israel's respect and consideration for its Arab minority.

When searching for a motive that spurred members of the Knesset to initiate this legislation, one wonders if it was not their intention to "put Israel's Arab citizens in their place," to remind them that they are a minority, and that the inferior status to be afforded to their mother tongue in Israel should be a permanent reminder of that. Not only is this not in the best interests of the Arab minority, it is not in the best interests of the Jewish majority either.

One is reminded of another attempt to "put somebody in his place" - when the Turkish ambassador to Israel was placed on a low chair in Israel's Foreign Ministry some months ago. It was a shameful act - regretted by all by now. It is better not to repeat such vain gestures.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: לימודי ערבית לכל