Israel Removes Arabic Announcements From Buses in South After Complaints

Transport Ministry acts after complaints by Be'er Sheva mayor and residents about new buses bearing electronic signs, which a protest ringleader says 'insulted her eyes and ears.'

A bus going to Be'er Sheva stops in the Bedouin town of Hura, August 4, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel has removed electronic announcements in Arabic from buses in the city of Be’er Sheva after the mayor relayed complaints from passengers.

The ban comes a week after the Dan company launched transportation routes in the Negev city, and as in other Israeli cities, the buses have electronic signs that post the names of stops in both Arabic and Hebrew, accompanied by loudspeaker notification, ahead of each stop.

Be’er Sheva residents posted complaints this past week on social media against the announcements in Arabic.

Sharona Tal, a writer in the Facebook group called “Be’er Sheva Together” sent a letter to Mayor Rubik Danilovich complaining that these bulletins  “insulted her eyes and ears. It’s as though Arabic has been crowned an international language.”

The Transportation Ministry said “the announcements in Arabic in urban buses in Be’er Sheva have been removed after complaints by the mayor of Be’er Sheva who had fielded many complaints from passengers who asked for the announcements to be removed.”

Be'er Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich speaks at a conference held by The Marker, November 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

Arabic is one of Israel's two official languages, in addition to Hebrew. Twenty-percent of Israelis are Palestinian Arabs.

Yisrael Katz, Israel's current transport minister, proposed in 2011 to remove Arabic from road signs but the idea, widely criticized at the time, was never implemented.

But a city councilor from the same right-wing party as Katz, the Likud, objected to the decision.

Ortal Perlman Shmueli said that “as a member of the nationalist camp I think that signs and announcements do not offend my national identity. There are diverse populations in our society, most are interested in being an integral part of society and we must do our utmost to create a society accepting of different sectors and identities.”

Tamar Zandberg, lawmaker with the left-wing Meretz party submitted a parliamentary query to the minister, adding that “it’s amazing how racism rises to the surface so easily."

Zandberg accused the authorities of showing how “in Israel of 2016 the winner is always the one who behaves violently and shouts racist epithets.”