Arab, Speak Arabic

Israel's Arab MKs can look to Jabotinsky for inspiration about how to achieve real equality between Arabic and Hebrew.

Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha
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Former president Shimon Peres at a memorial service for the late Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
Former president Shimon Peres at a memorial service for the late Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky.Credit: AP
Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha

As part of the delegitimization of Arab citizens, who constitute about one-fifth of Israel’s population, the Arab language has become a favorite punching bag, used to pump up the muscles of the Israeli right-wing. Unfortunately, persecution of Arabic comes not only from the right-wing establishment, but also from the Arabs themselves.

The bill to annul the official status of Arabic has been explained as an attempt to protect the Hebrew language and enshrine in law its status as the state language. There is nothing more foolish than this. That is because no one disputes the fact that Hebrew is the language of the ruling Jewish majority, a majority that exists only within the Green Line. Naturally, the language of the majority becomes dominant in the public sphere, with no effort and no need for laws. As a rule, if the majority changes, the government also changes and the dominant language is then also replaced.

The Arabs also belittle their mother tongue and lend a hand to edging it out of the public sphere. Evidence of this can be seen in every corner of Arab communities. The signs and advertisements at places of business and taking over the cityscape are almost always only in Hebrew. Correspondence between local residents and local authorities, municipalities and local councils are usually in Hebrew, not Arabic, their mother tongue. And so, responsibility for marginalizing Arabic also lies with them.

Arab Knesset members, who are ostensibly vociferous defenders of the Arabic language, are full partners to its burial. If these lawmakers had any respect for Arabic, they would act on it and serve as an example. There are proper ways to make Arabic present in the public sphere. For example, Arab MKs should start making their speeches in the Knesset in Arabic only. No one is stopping them. They would speak Arabic and the Knesset would have to provide earphones and simultaneous translation in the plenum chamber for the rest of the MKs.

Arab members of Knesset lack imagination. If legislation is what this is about, here is an idea for a bill that they should propose to the Knesset: “The principle of equalization of rights for all citizens, races, faiths and languages or classes will be instituted with no restrictions, in all sectors of public life in Israel. The Hebrew language and the Arabic language will be equal in their privileges and legal validity. No state law, flyer, order, coin or paper currency, state stamp, publication or document issued at the state’s expense, will be valid unless published in Hebrew and Arabic. Use of Hebrew and Arabic will be equally valid in the Knesset, courts, schools and, in general, in all state offices and institutions as well as in schools at every level. All government ministries will respond to applicants, orally and in writing, in the language of the application, whether Hebrew or Arabic.”

The Arab Knesset members must submit this bill without delay. Then we will see all the right-wing MKs of the ignorant and contemptible ilk revealed for who they truly are. Because the above quotation, presented here as an alternative bill, comes from the writings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky in his article: “The Arab question without drama.”

In the end, to paraphrase the chief inciter, one might say that the Israeli right wing has “forgotten what it is to be Jewish” with hadar (a Jabotinsky term for inner nobility and magnificence.)

And so, what is left for your humble servant to say about right-wingers in our country today is: the time has come for someone to give you a good zubor – if you understand Arabic you’ll know what that means.

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