Education Ministry Official Accused of Banning Arabic Teachers From Corresponding in Arabic

Senior official sends mass email that appears to prohibit teachers from conducting official correspondence in Arabic. The ministry says her quote was taken out of context.

School teachers of Arabic are up in arms over an email sent by a senior Education Ministry official that appears to prohibit them from conducting their official correspondence in Arabic.

"Why are official documents being issued in Arabic? Please ensure that documents are issued in Hebrew alone," Dr. Orna Simhon, the Education Ministry's northern regional director, wrote in an email dated June 1. Haaretz has obtained a copy of that email.

Simhon's letter was sent in response to an earlier message from the Arab language coordinator and computerization coordinator for the ministry's Arab education office.

That email, which was sent to all fifth- and sixth-grade Arabic teachers in Arab schools, listed detailed instructions for incorporating computers into lesson plans and included details about a special Arabic website intended to help Arab students “connect with our Jewish compatriots in their schools, with the aim of getting to know and being exposed to the other nation’s culture.”

The initial email also called on Arab teachers who teach Hebrew to “enter the Hebrew version of the site and discover the heritage of the Jewish people through proverbs, words of wisdom and values that are taught in Jewish schools.”

Also copied on the initial letter were the Arabic language supervisor and the computerization supervisor, as well as Simhon.

Simhon responded to everyone copied on the email, saying documents should be issued in Hebrew only.

The Education Ministry says her quote “has been taken out of context."

"The document was transferred to the district director in Arabic and she asked to receive a translation in Hebrew so she could approve it, but instead of sending the request to the coordinators, she sent it to all those who were copied,” the Education Ministry said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has since contacted the director general of the Education Ministry, Dalit Stauber, to complain about the incident.

“Dr. Simhon’s response contradicts the provision of the law regarding Arabic’s status as an official language in Israel, and violates the right of Arab workers in the Education Ministry to retain their national identity and cultural uniqueness, as well as their right to dignity and equality,” the ACRI wrote to Stauber.

The organization noted that “Israeli court judgments have recognized the uniqueness of the Arabic language as a cultural asset, and as an expression of the identity of the Arab minority, and ruled that the state must respect its use.”

The ACRI called on Stauber to make clear to Education Ministry employees that “Simhon’s demand that the use of Arabic be prohibited is discriminatory and unacceptable, and the ministry is obliged to respect the use of this language as part of its fulfillment of the right to culture and equality.”

Shadya Zoabi, an Arab public enquiries coordinator at the ACRI, added that “if Dr. Simhon knew how to read and understand Arabic, she may have actually welcomed the efforts the ministry is making to expose Arab students, through their teachers, to the culture and heritage of the Jewish people.” 

Yaron Kaminsky