Perhaps Arabs Can Save Hebrew From Demise

The core of the Hebrew language, on every level, is dwindling. Who will do something about it?

Thus spoke the prime minister a few days ago: "My father was born 100 years ago and was raised in a Hebrew-speaking home. He did not learn Yiddish, Polish or Lithuanian. He learned Hebrew. The Hebrew of Eliezer Ben Yehuda and Haim Nahman Bialik."

The apparent conclusion from that statement is that good Hebrew is what has brought Benjamin Netanyahu thus far in his career.

I don't know how many years ago MK Ahmed Tibi's father was born. The spoken language in his and his father's home was Arabic. Tibi did not inherit his excellent Hebrew from a lonesome poet who bemoaned his fate in the nooks and crannies of his father's house. Miraculously, Tibi's Hebrew is even more eloquent than Netanyahu's. Some say it is the best in the Knesset, and yet he has no chance of becoming prime minister.

I will never forget that awful moment when my eldest son, then two years old, asked me for a "bafla" (a common mispronunciation of a wafer cookie, pronounced "vaffel" in Hebrew).

"It's called vaffel," I scolded him, as I considered sending him off to boarding school at the Hebrew Language Academy. But his father (age 56, Israeli-born, from a Hebrew-German speaking home) drew my attention to the fact that "vaffel" (originating from "waffle") was also a foreign word.

It is incorrect to say, as the prime minister did at that recent meeting, "On this piece of furniture [Ben Yehuda's desk] the Hebrew language was renewed." Ben Yehuda's achievement, in fact, was taking Hebrew off the desk and turning it into spoken language. He brought Hebrew into the street, where foreign and slang expressions became part of the language.

The core of the Hebrew language, on every level, is dwindling; this is what concerns the government. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar decided to do something about it, declaring Hebrew as the central subject on next year's curriculum. Great plan, but it raises two questions. Who will carry it out? The teacher who herself made a grammatical mistake in Hebrew while we were discussing my son's progress?

And in what way? Will they enact it through that program "A Word a Minute," concocted in the Education Ministry's laboratories, by which every school day is started with a five-minute lesson on new words, expressions or idioms? Even the most inarticulate stammerer already uses too many lofty words. Hebrew's main problem stems from a need to uproot prevalent linguistic distortions and enrich the tongue by reading - a skill which about a third of the Jewish school students fail to master.

It would be helpful to hold concentrated Hebrew courses for the main "spoken-language agents" - radio and television people, MKs, teachers and ministers. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman can thank his lucky stars that nobody has yet submitted the proposal "No Definite Article - No Citizenship" to a vote. Such a bill would deny not only his citizenship but that of most of his party's MKs and voters - while granting it in abundance to the Palestinians, who tend to excel in their Hebrew studies.

According to the forecasts, future Israeli generations will consist mostly of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs, i.e. people for whom Hebrew is a foreign tongue. If we leave the preservation of Hebrew - "a fundamental, essential component of Israel's national and cultural identity" - to the future generations of teachers and students, it may yet transpire that this, too, is "Arab work" (a derogatory Hebrew expression used to describe inferior work).