Israeli Pupils to Be Taught Hebrew as Country's Only Official Language

Education Ministry directive falls short of mentioning that Arabic has a special status, as stated by the nation-state law, which deemed Hebrew the country's sole official language

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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Pupils in a Tel Aviv classroom, in 2019.
Pupils in a Tel Aviv classroom, in 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The Education Ministry has made it clear to Israeli civics teachers that from now on they have to teach their students that the only official language in the country is Hebrew, in accordance with the nation-state law.

A directive distributed by the ministry failed to mention the fact that the law also grants Arabic a special status and that "arranging the use of Arabic" will be anchored in law.

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The instruction to teachers appears in a document posted last week by the woman in charge of civics education, Einat Ohayon, on the official website, where an analysis of the answers from the matriculation exam administered in the summer of 2019 was posted.

The document includes examples of correct answers to exam questions, as well as explanations in places where many students found it difficult to answer correctly.

On one of the matriculation questions the students were asked to present the status of Hebrew. According to the analysis, "During this [exam] period an answer was received that refers to the status of Hebrew prior to the Basic Law on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People: Hebrew.

But "Beginning in the coming exam period, in accordance with the Basic Law on Israel as the nation-state, the students should be taught the present situation, in which, as mentioned, only Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel."

"The approach of the Education Ministry pulls the rug out from under everything we teach about pluralism in the State of Israel," said a civics teacher to Haaretz on Sunday. "If they aren't even required to mention Arabic, the next stage is revoking recognition of the rights of minorities in the country."

She added that "The parts of the law that the students are not required to know – end up being revoked in practice. I intend to continue teaching my students that Arabic has special status, and to mention the situation prior to the nation-state law."

The Education Ministry told Haaretz that the study material also includes a reference to Arabic, and that the language was not mentioned in the document with the answers because the question on the exam form related to the status of Hebrew only. "The students are not required to answer something they weren't asked."

The nation-state law entered the curriculum already in August, when civics teachers were given a "teacher's guide" with study material about the law. The guide includes two reading selections that support the law (by Aviad Bakshi and by Gadi Taub and Nissim Sofer), and two that oppose it (from the petition of the Supreme Monitoring Committee for Arab Affairs in Israel, and from a publication by the Israel Democracy Institute).

The nation-state law, which was passed in the Knesset in July 2018, determines that Hebrew is "the language of the country" whereas Arabic has a "special status." Its status is lower, but arrangements for its use in government institutions will be defined in law. MKs from the (mainly Arab) Joint List claimed that the law will undermine their efforts to upgrade the status of Arabic and to promote legislation that will require making television broadcasts and movies accessible by means of subtitles in Arabic or sign language interpreters.

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