Opinion |

As an Arab, I Support Israel's Jewish Nation-state Bill

I don’t see anything wrong with communities for Jews only if new Arab communities are built and can decide whether to accept new residents based on religion or nationality

Abed L. Azab
Abed L. Azab
Young settlers riding on a donkey with an Israeli flag as they join a march against Palestinian statehood at Itamar near Nablus, September 20, 2011.
Young settlers riding on a donkey with an Israeli flag as they join a march against Palestinian statehood at Itamar near Nablus, September 20, 2011.Credit: Ariel Schalit / AP
Abed L. Azab
Abed L. Azab

I’d like to repeat the headline: I support the nation-state bill in its current form, the one that allows communities for Jews only, without softening it in any way. That is, without beautifying it to make Israel look like a normal democratic country.

The changes proposed by parties in the governing coalition weren’t meant to safeguard human rights, including those of minorities, but rather for Israel to continue its trade relations with Europe without the Europeans reminding the people who experienced the Holocaust that their country is now the flag-bearer for racism around the world.

But in addition to the bill’s exposing of Israel’s repulsive and racist face, it also provides official approval for the racism against Israel’s Arab citizens since the state’s founding. Still, as I’ll explain below, it’s possible that such a law would bring positive results.

In Haaretz’s Hebrew edition, Jonathan Lis wrote an article called “The controversial sections in the nation-state bill.” I’d like to go over those three sections, but please note, they’re controversial among Knesset members in the governing coalition too.

The opinion of Arabic-speaking opposition members, who represent the great majority of Israel’s native speakers of Arabic, hasn’t been taken into account in the least. Subordinating this community to “Jewish jurisprudence” doesn’t bother the coalition either. I think this is the embodiment of racism: the dictatorship of the majority that doesn’t take into account the minority’s basic needs.

“The status of the Arabic language” is the first controversial section because according to the bill, Hebrew will be Israel’s only official language. What’s the situation today? Arabic is the second official language. The bill is thus a fig leaf for racism.

And without hot-headed and fiery slogans, let’s make a simple calculation. What’s the percentage of Arabic speakers in branches of the National Insurance Institute, or at the tax authority, government ministries, the Government Companies Authority or boards of state-owned firms?

If there are such people, are they native speakers or is their Arabic inarticulate and military? How many of them can write in fluent, official Arabic? Are they allowed, not to say encouraged or required, to give expression to this aptitude in their contact with the Arab community or on official business?

Despite the current situation in which Arabic is an official language, its use at government ministries and institutions far from reflects this. Moreover, most of the very few Arabs who are hired for such jobs are accepted based on their good Hebrew; this is definitely a legitimate requirement, but their skills in their native language aren’t considered in the hiring process. At the moment of truth, the vast majority of these Arabs will write (or translate) a document in Arabic with mistakes in syntax and even spelling.

The situation at nongovernment institutions – like universities, colleges, museums, theaters and the parks authority – that receive government funding is even worse. At almost each you can find a leaflet or two in Arabic in window displays, but the use of Arabic ends there; in the institution’s normal work, the use of Arabic is minuscule.

Will students who finish their doctoral research in chemistry at Hebrew University or the Technion be allowed to write their theses in Arabic? Will any of the teachers be able to go over this work in Arabic? For full disclosure, I’ll note that during my long teaching career it was much easier for me – and at the beginning even necessary – to study and teach chemistry in Hebrew because both my high school and academic studies were in Hebrew.

Let’s set aside for a moment the issue of academic studies, which in their more advanced stage (such as higher degrees and research) even Hebrew loses out to English. After all, cultural institutions in Yiddish or Russian, languages that aren’t official languages, have always received government support in Israel – much more than institutions where the main language is Arabic.

The section on communities' “acceptance committees” is the stumbling block of the nation-state bill. It's depicted as the most racist part and unconstitutional because it allows the building of communities for Jews only and lets these communities reject Arabs.

The bill doesn’t mention Jews but only acceptance based on religion and nationality. I don’t see anything wrong with this section if its implementation is accompanied by the building of new communities for Arabs who will be able to decide whether to accept new residents based on religion or nationality. I’m certain that the residents of some Muslim towns in Israel would welcome such a law.

Finally, as for the third section on “Jewish jurisprudence,” this may look a bit strange, but I recommend that the Joint List’s Arab MKs support this section, and even a more extreme version – with a legal system based on Jewish law. After all, in many Arab towns sharia law almost exists already; for example, they don’t allow mixed-gender marathons. Let’s see how many Tel Avivians would survive the imposition of Jewish law for a decade.

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