Ameinu American Jews Israel Israeli Arabs

An obscene bill would make Arabic a “secondary” language in Israel

Last Friday, I spent the morning at a planning session with the most courageous, inspiring and sensible Israelis I have ever met: the leaders of Givat Haviva, which has been fighting the battle for coexistence and equality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel for decades.

At a time when the social and economic gaps between Israel’s Arabs and Israel’s Jews are gaping, these Jews and Arabs are striving, almost defiantly, to build a “shared society,” an Israel where different cultures have a shared stake in the future, despite the Nakba, despite the racism, despite the difficulties of reconciling the Zionist ethos with the Israeli Arab experience, despite the Arab villages that have disappeared, despite the Muslim cemetaries that have been desecrated by government-approved construction projects, despite everything.

Other American Jewish groups are also engaged in this struggle, including the Abraham Fund and Ameinu, on whose board I serve. Recently, the plight of Palestinian citizens of Israel has been taken up by the American Jewish mainstream, or at least part of it, in the form of an Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues. That is a coalition of 80 North American Jewish organizations, foundations, federations and private philanthropists, who “support Israel’s Declaration of Independence, including the article that promises social and political equality for all its inhabitants—Jews and Arabs alike.”

This is, to put it gently, a journey up a very steep, perilous slope. It may well be harder to reach the goal of a shared and equal society within Israel than to create a Palestinian state. But the last thing Israel needs is to make the problem worse, to send a signal to Israeli Arabs –one fifth of the population–that they are not full-fledged citizens. That is why a Knesset bill that will be introduced by Likud MK Limor Livnat is not just infuriating; it is obscene. As noted in today’s Haaretz:

MK Limor Livnat (Likud) and three other leading MKs from Kadima, Likud and Shas are set to propose this week that the Knesset remove Arabic from its list of the country’s official primary languages.

The bill would make Hebrew the only official primary language, and Arabic, English and Russian would become official secondary languages…

“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,” said Livnat.

“Precisely in these times, when there are radical groups of Israeli Arabs trying to turn the State of Israel into a binational state, it is most urgent to put into law the unique status of the language of the Bible – the Hebrew language.”

Her last statement might win this year’s prize for the most contorted, creative Orwellian doublespeak. Yes, there are single-staters among Palestinian citizens of Israel, and there are fierce separatists, and there is bitterness and fury and confusion. The answer to that trend is to make every effort to give these citizens equal standing in Israel. Instead, some political opportunists are going out of their way to slap them in the face, to treat them as a kind of irritating afterthought.

43 thoughts on “An obscene bill would make Arabic a “secondary” language in Israel

  1. I’ve been deprived of the Realistic Dove experience for a few weeks, but am always glad to check back in to observe the mental and moral gymnastics you go through, in order to prove to yourself that “the Zionist ethos” can be “reconciled” with the needs and rights of the indigenous Arabs of Palestine. Last time I checked, merely endorsing the idea that Israel could be defined as a “state for the Jews and all its citizens” was enough to enough to place any Israeli politican beyond the pale…

  2. I’ve been deprived of the Marco experience for a few weeks, but I am always glad when he checks back in to observe the mental and moral gymnastics he goes through, in order to prove to himself that “the Palestinian ethos” can be “reconciled” with the needs and rights of the indigenous Jews of Israel.

    Last time I checked, merely endorsing the idea that Israel could be a “Jewish state” alongside a Palestinian state was enough to place any Palestinian politican beyond the pale…

  3. Oh, I don’t know about that, Jonathan. For decades, Palestinians recognized the rights of “indigenous” Jews, i.e., those whose families were there before about 1900. It’s those troublesome European-born, Zionist secularists, most of whom didn’t care very much about their ancient homeland but used it as a rallying cry to mobilize the masses, who posed a problem.

    And now, Abu Mazen et. al. might not recognize the “right” of a Jewish state to exist, but they have certainly endorsed the idea that the only way out of this mess is for such a state to exist “alongside a Palestinian state.”

  4. Actually this is exactly the right time for a bill like this. It’s a symbolic statement to the Arabs minority that things like the flag and the national anthem aren’t changing and that Israel will continue to be a Jewish state. The drawback is that it’s always helpful to know what your seditious minority is saying. Downgrade the official status but upgrade instruction. That’s actually a matter of national security.

  5. Bill, I am glad you think that pointlessly insulting a large minority of Israeli citizens will enhance “national security.” I am glad because you are now in second place in the Orwellian doublespeak contest…

  6. Marco, Judaism, Hebrew and the Jews are indigenous to Israel. That is where Judaism, the Jews and the Hebrew language came from. That is where most Jewish births today occur.

    For decades, Palestinians refused to recognize the rights of this “indigenous” group, the Jews, not even those Jews whose families were in Israel before about 1900.

    The problem is chiefly with those troublesome Islamists, the vast majority of whom weren’t even born in Palestine. They neither know nor care very much about the Jews’ ancient and current homeland.

    Rather, the Islamists use calls to destroy Israel as a rallying cry to mobilize the masses, who pose a problem. “Destroy Israel” is a way of diverting the masses from seeking social change in their own nations.

    And now, Abu Mazen et. al. might not recognize the “right” of a Jewish state to exist, but they have certainly endorsed the idea that the only way out of this mess is for such a state to exist “alongside a Palestinian state.”

    Unfortunately that is not the case with the Islamists, including Hezbollah, Iran, Hamas, Al Qaeda, etc. These latter groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas which rule Lebanon and Gaza, respectively, still seek the destruction of Israel.

  7. Dan,
    Back in the mid-1980s Jesse Jackson made a statement that the Israelis would have to try harder to assimilate into the region in order for there to be peace. Since then Israel has moved far along that road and this is further proof of that. Getting hung up on symbolic issues, downgrading the position of the Arabs to a dhimmi-like status, further enhancing the position of the religious establishment shows that the Israelis have learned well from their Muslim Arab neighbors.

    If this bill is passed Israel will have to start reminting its coins, printing more stamps without Arabic, etc. But this is much easier than reducing the social gap, saving the failing education system, improving the combat capability of the IDF, or making peace with its neighbors.

    In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionists replaced the Ulster Unionists as the mainstream party by making a big deal of the cap badge and the name of the new police service.

  8. Tom,

    “In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionists replaced the Ulster Unionists as the mainstream party by making a big deal of the cap badge and the name of the new police service.”

    I don’t understand the reference. If you have a moment, please explain. Thanks

  9. The US doesn’t put Spanish on its coins. The US could if it wanted to, and I would not mind if it did.

    But it doesn’t.

    How many of the people complaining on this website have made any effort to put Spanish on US coins and stamps?

  10. The US puts Latin on its coins. (Noone speaks Latin).

    Its the fight between the degree that Israel is a Jewish nation (nationalist), vs a democratic nation.

    Personally, I think that a democratic approach is the most congruous with what I read in Torah, while the nationalist contradicts Torah.

    So, do I want to be a shell-Jew, or a nut-Jew. Without begging the yuk-yuk, I want to be a nut (the living part that can actually perpetuate).

  11. Not only that, but the US dollar bill has an eye on a pyramid, and no one lives in pyramids!

    I think that the Democratic tangential melifluent threnody is the essence of pilpul (Talmudic dialectic.)

    I don’t want to be a viper-Jew, or a watermelon-Jew either or a whooooo-whooooo! Without prognosticating the sandwich, I want to be the mayonnaise that makes it all go down smoothly.

  12. Teddy,
    When as part of the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998 the police service underwent reform it changed its name from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and had redesigned uniforms and badges. In practice the PSNI was much closer to the old RUC than to the police that Sinn Fein wanted. But the unionist public got hung up over the name change and the new badge. This in addition to the IRA’s failure to disarm in the time alloted under the agreement (and its declared intention not to disarm) led most unionists to stop supporting the GFA.

  13. Hakshivu, hakshivu! Attention, metaphor makers! I don’t have the slightest idea what either of you are talking about…

  14. “In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionists replaced the Ulster Unionists as the mainstream party by making a big deal of the cap badge and the name of the new police service.”

    Teddy: Irony alert! I think he means these are only diversionary tactics. You can even win elections with gamesmanship, “e.g.” by convincing people that a new name of the station and new police caps badges changes reality for the better.

    But then I am a f******, Kraut. So what do I know.:)

  15. “To be” or “Not to be”

    Our choice.

    “Suffer” or “Take Arms”

    Our choice.

    “Happy” or “Sad”

    Our choice.

    “George” or “Ringo”

    Our choice.

  16. Its just a question Jonathon.

    Between your ridicule of metaphor, and your response of a question to a question, I get the sense that you are responding defensively, rather than asserting what you do seek.

    Are you Jewish?

  17. Its just a question Richard.

    Between your ridicule of land-for-peace, and your support of war to force Israel to settle Palestinians inside of Israel, I get the sense that you are responding defensively, rather than asserting what you do seek.

    Why do you oppose land-for-peace, and support war-for-right-of-return? Why don’t you care about peace, Richard?

  18. The concept of war-for-right-of-return is a very dangerous one.

    The believer in war-for-right-of-return maintains that it is acceptable for the Palestinian side to reject land-for-peace.

    Supporters of land-for-peace should proclaim that they do not support anyone–including the Palestinian side–rejecting land-for-peace and threatening or waging war to force Israel to agree to limited-right-of-return-plus-land-for-peace.

  19. Nitwit,
    Actually the PSNI encompasses legitimate reforms, but not enough to satisfy republicans who continue to want to be able to resort to force to change the constitutional position of the province and to maintain a hegemonic position in Catholic ghettoes. My critique was that many unionists were unable to accept the fact that they were the winners in The Troubles and unable to separate the important from the trivial.

  20. Jonathan,

    Which Palestinians have said that they will “wage war” explicitly over the right of return? You keep bringing that up…Perhaps I’ve missed something.

  21. Anyone who refuses to make peace with Israel is, at minimum, threatening to wage war with Israel.

    Those who reject peace with Israel may not, for practical reasons, carry out that threat, but the threat is still there. Peace is the absence of war. A refusal to make peace is a threat to wage war.

    Every Palestinian leader from Abbas to Hamas has stated that they won’t make peace with Israel unless Israel agrees to settle some fraction of Palestinian refugee descendants inside of Israel. Hamas says 3 million. Abbas may only demand a vastly smaller number.

    If Hamas and Abbas won’t make peace with Israel without right-of-return, then they are threatening to wage war over the issue of right-of-return.

  22. I haven’t posted on this blog in a while, partially because the quality of the comments section has really diminished since Jonathan Mark started commenting. What does the question of how many Palestinian refugees should be allowed to settle inside Israel in a peace agreement have to do with the status of Arabic as an official language?

  23. “””What does the question of how many Palestinian refugees should be allowed to settle inside Israel in a peace agreement”””

    You are assuming that Israel will agree to settle some inside its borders.

    “””have to do with the status of Arabic as an official language?”””

    It’s all related to peace between Jews and Arabs, what is required for peace, what Palestinians can ethically fight to achieve and what they cannot.

    I maintain that war-for-right-of-return is immoral.

  24. “I maintain that war-for-right-of-return is immoral.”

    I know you like to take quotes out of context and flip them.

    So, if Israel had acted on that, at any point in its sovereignty, including now, Israel would have been conducting gross immorality.

    Language, like law, is best applied justly. Again, I learned my favorite method of fairness as a child. “I cut the cake. You choose which piece you want.”

    In that game, the most equal turns out to be the most advantageous. It can be customized if different parties have different needs, but the same spirit of mutuality applies.

  25. You mean, why did I change my mind?

    And, why did you not answer the question about Israel’s morality, applying your quote?

  26. You broke your promise. You promised that you would ignore me.

    What if people who sign peace treaties break their promises too? Is that okay too? Or is breaking promises only okay when you do it?

  27. I believe Jonathan makes rather glib interpretations when he stresses that anyone who refuses land for peace is esentially waging war against Israel. By that flawed logic, he is putting not only Palestinians in this column, but also Israelis and Americans at war with Israel. I find it rather dangerous and very hubristic that one can call for a one-man one-vote system and be an advocate of war. It seems to me that the civil rights movement was a war movement that would destroy the American state over the rights to vote or to rid themselves of second-class status. Would Jonathan make that equation too?

  28. Joshua,

    I think Jonathan means “anyone who refuses Bantustans for peace or refuses to make peace with and recongnize Israel as a Jewish State while Israel continues to deny and vacillate when it comes to a Palestinian State is waging war against Israel”

    PM

  29. “””anyone who refuses land for peace is esentially waging war against Israel.”””

    Peace is the absence of war. If the Palestinians “refuse” land-for-the-absence-of-war then they are at least threatening war against Israel.

  30. “””“anyone who refuses Bantustans for peace or refuses to make peace with and recongnize Israel as a Jewish State while Israel continues to…”””

    As I noted above, peace is the absence of war. Those who refuse to make absence-of-war with Israel are at least threatening war against Israel.

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