Arab Law Students at Israeli University Protest Language Requirement for Mentorship Program

Bar-Ilan University requires that mentors speak Hebrew as their mother tongue

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Bar-Ilan University, in 2020.
Bar-Ilan University, in 2020.Credit: David Bachar
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Bar-Ilan University is barring students whose mother tongue is not Hebrew from acting as mentors in a program that assists students who don’t speak Hebrew in their first year of law studies.

Arab law students told Haaretz that even though they have an excellent command of Hebrew, they were barred from being mentors in the program, maintaining that this was a discriminatory requirement. Bar-Ilan rejected the accusations of discrimination, saying native Hebrew speakers can better help Arab students in strengthening their Hebrew.

The program at Bar-Ilan was established two years ago to assist first-year students from Arab communities in writing academic assignments in Hebrew, with students in higher classes mentoring the newer students.

Arab students who were not accepted into the program called it a wrongful approach that harmed their career prospects, since participating in such a program could help them get internships and employment. They said the law school has told them the requirement for Hebrew as a mother tongue was not likely to change.

“What’s the problem with an Arab student who has all the skills and knowledge accompanying another student? After all, we’ve studied the same material and undergone the same process,” said one of them. Another student complained to the faculty a month ago, saying, “Although my mother tongue is not Hebrew, I could fulfill this role in an ideal manner.”

University spokeswoman Anat Lev-Confortes said that this program was set up to aid and empower Arab students throughout their studies. “It’s not a question of requirements. It’s a question of need. If you need strengthening in Hebrew, it’s best if this is done by someone whose mother tongue is Hebrew. It’s much better for the Arab students,” she said. "The whole purpose of this program is to help students who need it, in this case ones from Arab society, to meet the challenges of the Hebrew language.”

Dr. Manal Totry-Jubran and Dr. Uri Aharonson, who run the mentorship program, said that “not only does the faculty not discriminate against students, particularly not the Arab students, this program was initiated by the faculty, trying to support and promote Arab students using different methods, some of them specifically designated for Arab students.”

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