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Arabic 'Threatens' Israeli Supremacy
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JERUSALEM: In a move that has outraged both Arab Israelis and some progressive Jewish Israelis, a new bill was presented to the Israeli Knesset or parliament last week to relegate Israel's other official language Arabic to that of a secondary language, leaving Hebrew as the only official language.

The bill was drafted by Likud Member of the Knesset (MK) Limor Livnat, a renowned right-winger, and was seconded by MKs Yuli Edelstein from Likud, Otniel Schneller from Kadima and Ya'acov Margi from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

arabic.jpg Should this move be approved by the Knesset, then Arabic would be downgraded to the same level as English, a language native to only a small percentage of Israeli immigrants, and taught in schools primarily for the purpose of communicating with the international community.

Arabic is the native language of Arab Israelis or 20 percent of Israel's population. Russian is spoken by 1 million people, out of a total comprising just over 7 million, with the remainder of the population speaking Hebrew as its first language.

During the British mandate, prior to the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, British officials made English, Arabic and Hebrew the three official languages of the country.

The Israelis later dropped English to a secondary language as it was not used in the country other than in foreign relations.

The decision to keep both Hebrew and Arabic as the country's official languages had political significance as keeping both languages on a level of equality promoted and determined the bilingual nature of the country.

It further obliged the state to use both languages when it comes to government ministries, the publication of laws and regulations, and legal discussions.

However, Livnat tried to persuade the Knesset that continuing to keep Arabic on the same level as Hebrew constituted a threat to Israel.

"Hebrew and Arabic would become official languages with equal status – it is urgent to ratify by law the unique status of the language of the Bible, the Hebrew language," Livnat said.

"It cannot be, it is not appropriate or reasonable that the status of one language or another in the Land of Israel is identical to the status of the Hebrew language," she added.

"Precisely in these times, when there are radical groups of Israeli Arabs trying to turn the State of Israel into a bi-national state, it is most urgent to put into law the unique status of the language of the Bible – the Hebrew language," she added.

But Livnat was soon facing flack from both Arab Israeli and Jewish Israeli MKs. Some leftists accused her of attempting to legislate a dangerous idea with legal, practical, cultural and political ramifications, which would create a superfluous break with 20 percent of the Israeli public.

"It is mind-boggling that considerations relating to primaries are pushing a former education minister to such extreme ideas," said MK Avshalom Vilan, from the leftist Meretz party.

Hadash MK, and Israeli-Arab, Muhammad Barakei also lashed out at the former education minister.

"This negligible personality bears responsibility for the acute deterioration of the education system," Barakei said. "Arabic is the language of this land and the Livnat laws can't change that."

Arab-Israeli author and attorney Marzuk Halabi weighed into the fray explaining that "even with the present so-called equality between the two languages, in reality Hebrew takes dominance over Arabic."

Further reality on the ground means that in order to get jobs, or further one's education, Arab Israelis are obliged to learn Hebrew with the majority of them speaking the language fluently.

For example, academic studies are only available in Hebrew, a fact that constitutes an obstacle and prevents tens of thousands of young Arabs from acquiring higher education, Halabi told YNET News.

"The cultural marginalization of the Arabic language highlights the exclusion of the Arab minority from Israeli society and limits the ability of young Arabs to become integrated within," added Halabi.

This concept doesn't apply to Jewish Israelis, with only a minority speaking Arabic.

This attempt at what some have labeled as blatant discrimination comes against a background of other discriminatory practices against Arab Israelis in a variety of sectors, according to Israeli and international human rights organizations.

These include education as already mentioned, allocation of funds on municipal facilities, town planning, the issuance of building licenses, demolition of illegally built structures, the purchase of land which is open to Jews only, in addition to a number of other areas.

There is a chance that the bill will not pass, just as a similar bill which was brought before the Knesset in 1997 was rejected, and that many Israelis will see the bill for what it is: another attempt to marginalize Arab Israelis and reinforce their status as second-class citizens.


Source >  Middle East Times (june 10)

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