Israel's State Comptroller Wants to Scrap Arabic Translations for Prefaces to Office's Reports

Matanyahu Englman also reportedly opposed requiring Arabic—language notices about bus lanes before relenting

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a conference, September 3, 2019.
\ Ilan Assayag

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman intends to cancel the practice of translating the prefaces of his office's reports into Arabic, he reportedly said in recent internal meetings.

Sources in the state comptroller’s office also claim that Englman had fiercely objected to his office ordering the Transportation Ministry to publish an Arabic-language notice about rights pertaining to all citizens. Englman only relented at the last minute, say the sources.

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The practice of translating the prefaces of reports issued by the State Comptroller's Office into Arabic was instated by Englman's predecessor, Joseph Shapira. Shapira had said that President Reuven Rivlin, then speaker of the Knesset, pointed out that Arabic is also an official language of the State of Israel. "After all, there are 1.8 million Arab residents,” Shapira said. “I instructed [my office] to translate the prefaces to every state comptroller report into Arabic as well, so that particular community can know what the report says.”

Shapira added that in recent years, the issue of including Arabic has intensified. "Some would prefer to strengthen the rule of the majority, and others to protect minority rights," he said. "With the exception of the particularly extreme fringes, the vast majority of the Israeli public agrees that Israel is a democracy with minority representation."

Recently, Englman and State Comptroller’s Office staff have been clashing over a report, now in its final stages, regarding public transportation in Israel. While examining the materials, they learned that many Arab citizens get traffic tickets for driving in bus lanes, partly because they are unaware that they can to obtain permission from the Transportation Ministry to use those lanes under certain circumstances. The report’s authors recommended that the State Comptroller’s Office require the Transportation Ministry to publish an announcement in Arabic about their rights regarding the use of public transportation lanes.

“The state comptroller opposed it vehemently,” said one source involved. “He only relented after a fierce argument. His position was very strange, since there is no question here of efficiency or saving money that could explain his opposition." He added, "One suspects that Englman was driven by negative motives, even if he gave in at the end.”

The source added that he hopes Englman will also forgo ending the Arabic translations – "We're talking about 20 percent of the population," he said.

In response, the State Comptroller’s Office issued a statement: "The comptroller does not intend to comment on internal work processes in his office. Audit reports will be published for the public after they are submitted to the Knesset."

The new comptroller's intention to cancel Arabic translations for prefaces joins a host of decisions by Englman that signal a proposed revolution. Since taking office in July, he has abolished the department for fighting corruption, and added positive statements about agencies and people covered in reports, even consulting with them about the topics to be examined by his office.

Englman recently agreed to let Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu borrow up to 2 million shekels ($576,000) from American tycoon Spencer Partrich to cover his legal fees in corruption investigations against him, an issue likely to reach the high court.