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Photo: Reuters
'The more the Arab minority is pressed by lawmakers, the more its unique identity will take shape'
Photo: Reuters
Yaron London
Let Israel's Arabs and their language be
Op-ed: Bill dropping Arabic as one of state's official languages seeks to humiliate Arab minority and perpetuate its inferiority.
Here's a riddle for you: Which of the bills submitted for the Knesset's approval these days is explained with the words "…will contribute to the social cohesion in the State of Israel and to the construction of the collective identity necessary for forming mutual trust in the society and preserving the values of democracy?"

 

 

I'll spare you the effort. The bill with these arguments calls for the annulment of the Arabic language's legal status as one of the two official languages in Israel.

 

Those who worded the proposal fail to explain how democracy, collective identity and mutual trust will build up on Arabs' language difficulties in their contact with government institutions, and how will they be advanced by the absence of an Arab version of complicated forms, signs in Arabic in Jewish communities or the translation of a court examination into Arabic.

 

Perhaps their intention was that the Arabs would be forced to gain a command of Hebrew on a level which would allow them to successfully deal with any task requiring fluency in the majority's language.

 

And when they become fluent Hebrew speakers against their will, they will adopt that Israeli collective identity, which although its nature is not clarified in the proposal, its image can be drawn from the identity of the proposing Knesset members. They are all right-wing Orthodox religious Jews from the right.

 

Their idea is familiar from several nation states, mainly France, which annihilated the regional languages in order to create one nation. But then the Jews fear this process, which will blur the boundaries between Jews and Arabs, like they fear a plague.

 

If Hassan and Fatma master the majority's language and assimilate into its culture, and perhaps even adopt a native Ashkenazi accent and choose names for their offspring which do not mark an identity, they may infiltrate the minority like a virus deceiving the national Jewish body's defense mechanisms. Yusuf who calls himself Yoske and seduces a Jewish girl terrifies the typical Jewish family.

 

So what is the intention of the bill's initiators? There is an argument over the meaning of the term "official language," and courts required to discuss the issue following claims filed by different bodies over the years have weakened its official meaning, which was taken from the laws of the British Mandate.

 

Both the interpretations given by the judges and the custom which has put down roots have turned the Arabic language into a secondary language, which there is no obligation to use in all official documents and in all public institutions.

 

Those who proposed the law seek to declare that the actual situation is the desirable situation, and that we should aggravate it and prevent any ability to undermine it. They wish to castrate Arabness without giving the Arabs a possibility to infiltrate all parts of the Israeli society. They wish to humiliate them, to wipe their fingerprints from local history, to perpetuate their inferiority, to make their lives more difficult and to prevent them from receiving equal treatment in their contact with bureaucracy.

 

Jews boast about their historical memory and have developed memory preservation mechanisms which exist in no other nation, but this repository does not help them in their relations with the gentiles.

 

One of the most quoted sayings is "the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread" (Exodus 1:12), and our Sages of Blessed Memory ruled that the people of Israel were liberated from Egypt because "they didn't change their name and their language."

 

The Arab minority in Israel will sharpen its identity according to those social-cultural laws which sharpened our identity. The more it is pressed by lawmakers, the more its resistance will grow and its unique identity will take shape.

 

Leave them alone, respect their culture, help them develop it, give them a place in any of the society and economic sites, honor the law which provides them with proper representation in the government companies' boards of directors, nurture bilingual schools, teach Arabic as a compulsory language in the Jewish schools, improve the Hebrew studies in the Arab schools – and the result will be a mutual building relationship, which (as the bill's initiators put it) is what creates social cohesion, builds a collective identity, strengthens mutual trust and preserves the values of democracy.

 

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