Demoting Arabic: the Knesset finally tells the truth

dsc05565+972 Magazine, August 6, 2011

The Israeli Knesset is on a roll. First, it passes the anti-boycott bill. Now, it’s considering changing the status of Arabic from the state’s second official language into the language of the state’s second class citizens.

I’ll say now what I felt about the anti-boycott law: the Knesset should pass the legislation so the world will understand what it’s really dealing with.

Arabic might have been the second official language all these years but few Jewish Israelis speak it.

NGOs have had to wage legal battles to get Arabic on the street signs funded and posted by the state. For example, when Adalah filed a petition in 1998 regarding the use of Arabic on national road signs, over 80% of those signs “were posted solely in Hebrew and English; Arabic appeared, if at all, only on signs posted near Arab localities.”

How many times has an Arabic speaker with weak Hebrew gone into a government office and not been able to get the help they need? How many times have they been faced with forms that come in Hebrew only?

And how have those who speak the second official language of the state fared in Israeli courts? I might add that I sat in on a Supreme Court hearing in January and watched a Palestinian man struggle to articulate himself to the judges in Hebrew, not in the second official language, his mother tongue, Arabic. There was no translator present.

This legislation would formalize the sentiment that has surfaced in a Yafo (Jaffa) school, where a principal has forbidden Palestinian citizens of Israel from speaking Arabic amongst each other.

The law, as disturbing as it is, is a step towards honesty. Perhaps it will also serve as a wake-up call to those who, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, are still holding on to the belief that a Jewish and democratic state is possible.

Photo: Mya Guarnieri. A street sign in Tel Aviv says Yafo St, but only in English and Hebrew. According to the 1947 UN partition plan, Arab Jaffa would have been part of a Palestinian state. Most  of the Palestinian residents were driven out of Jaffa in 1948. In 1950, Tel Aviv annexed Jaffa and gave it a Hebrew name, Yafo.

Comments are closed.