Opinion |

Israel's Admission of Racism

The new nation-state bill seeks to cancel Arabic’s status as Israel’s second 'official language,' one of the most ludicrous lies heard here in decades. When was Arabic actually an official language in Israel?

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With the government’s approval of the new nation-state bill, under which the Arabic language will lose its official status, Israel has officially admitted its racism toward its Arab citizens. We recognized this from the declaration of the state to this day, in all areas of life, but now the government has affirmed that this racism is legal and acceptable. As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing to get excited or angry about. With the approval of the bill initiated by MK Avi Dichter, the pretense and the lies have ended.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, we Arabs have been living under a racist regime. Ostensibly there was never any discriminatory legislation against Arab citizens except for that relating to child allowances, but that was corrected under Yitzhak Rabin’s second government. We’re talking about small sums, but they were of symbolic importance.

The official reason for the differential child allowances was that higher sums were being paid to those whose parents had served in the army, but this excuse was baseless in a reality in which the ultra-Orthodox, who don’t serve in the army, got more than the Arabs. And in general, if the allowance was meant for the child’s welfare, there was no way to know if he himself would serve in the army when the time came.

But racism was expressed in all areas of life and countless ways were found to maintain it, sometimes without efforts to soften it. We were humiliated at Ben-Gurion Airport even when we were part of a delegation that was mostly Jews and was meant to represent the State of Israel. Our Jewish friends passed through security with no problem while we were stripped and shamed.

Large mortgages were given to army veterans while we didn’t get a penny. The argument was that while a Jewish youth was devoting three years of his life to the state, we could be working and earning money. A simple calculation will show that what we could have earned in those three years doesn’t come close to the grant Jews get with their mortgage.

At university the Jews got scholarships because they were army veterans, while we had to pay full tuition. Even if our grades were good, there was always some clause in the regulations that gave Jews preference over us for scholarships.

There’s no need to elaborate on the racism in the labor market; a young Arab with the same skills and education as his Jewish counterpart will sit through dozens of interviews and his chances of getting hired are considerably lower. Getting an academic position is more akin to winning the lottery than a track based on achievement. There are quite a few cases in which a young Arab came back from doing post-doctoral research abroad but wasn’t admitted to the research institutions here, and cases in which it was leaked that the reason was his being an Arab.

In the realm of construction and development the situation is more critical; the state does not allow Arab towns to expand their jurisdictions, nor are new Arab communities being built. The government isn’t issuing building permits and demolishes “illegal construction” at lightning speed. In the cases of illegal construction by Jews, there’s a very long process until demolition, and then only after the criminals have been promised a home in an extensive, high-quality neighborhood as an alternative.

In other areas, such as the funding of local authorities and the allocation of funds to health and education, it’s even worse. The budgets channeled from government ministries to the Arab local authorities are minuscule compared to those given to Jewish local authorities. The baseless racist excuse is that Arabs don’t pay local taxes (arnona) like Jews. A report by the Union of Local Authorities in Israel proves that this claim is fundamentally false.

And now the new nation-state bill seeks to cancel Arabic’s status as Israel’s second “official language,” one of the most ludicrous lies heard here in decades. When was Arabic actually an official language? Only on paper. Israel excels in legislation aimed at “correcting historic injustice” and to encourage the integration of Arab citizens in positions of influence, in government ministries and on the boards of government companies. In practice, these declarations are hardly implemented.

With regard to language, even if until now there was Arabic text on official forms, is it permitted to fill out the forms in Arabic? And if an Arab citizen was to fill out a form in Arabic, would that form be handled the same way as forms filled out in Hebrew are? How many clerks in government offices are fluent in Arabic and can (if they would even want to) help an Arab citizen who doesn’t know Hebrew? What’s the purpose of Arabic road signs if the names that appear there are Hebrew names in Arabic transliteration?

Now it will also be forbidden for us, Israel’s Arab citizens, to dream of self-determination. Under the new bill, this right is reserved solely for Jews. What is self-determination, actually? A desire for a state? Most of Israel’s Arab citizens want to live here as a national minority, with all the cultural features this implies. The Balad party and such may demand cultural autonomy, but they themselves don’t understand what that means; moreover, the overwhelming majority of Israel’s Arab citizens laugh at this notion.

In short, there’s nothing new to this bill and you haven’t taken anything away from us. You’ve only confirmed what we’ve known for 69 years – that Israel is a racist country.