This latest of repeated attempts by some MKs to repeal the designation of Arabic as an official language on par with Hebrew shows how our Jewish victim mentality affects our relationship with the Arab citizens of Israel.
We should be proud that we have two official languages, the revitalized Hebrew of our ancients and the Arabic of our neighbors and a large slice of our citizenry. We should be proud that our Arab citizens and many of our neighbors can converse with us in our language (albeit many of the latter achieved fluency in Hebrew as political prisoners in our jails) and we should be ashamed that most of us cannot do the same in their language. We bemoan the fact that the Arab Middle East will not accept a Jewish sovereign state in its midst and yet we would estrange ourselves from that very same Arab Middle East if the Knesset removes Arabic as an official state language.
As rationale for this law, its sponsors claim that this will strengthen the Hebrew language and help solidify our national identity. (Add here a common scornful expletive not meant for polite company that means “stuff and nonsense”.) If, in order to strengthen our national identity, we need to artificially prop up the Hebrew language, then we need a lot more than this law to unify us.
As it is, immigrants are offered a solid grounding in Hebrew and not Arabic. And Arabs who wish to work and advance professionally in Israeli society are proficient in Hebrew, sometimes even surpassing the language skills of their Jewish peers. In fact, Israel is not the only country with more than one official language. There are several, such as Canada (English and French) and Finland (Finnish and Swedish), for example.
No, it is not from strength but from weakness that this law is derived. A strong proud Jewish nation (and we do not need a law to state the obvious – i.e., that this is a Jewish nation) meets all its citizens, minority and majority alike, at eye-level. A strong nation has no need to erase from public eyes and ears the features marking the culture and identity of a significant sector of its population.
In fact, in 2008, Limor Livnat tried to pass a similar law, contending that there is no logic behind the equal standings of Hebrew and Arabic when Arabs are attempting to turn this into a bi-national state, meaning threatening the Jewish nature of Israel. What could be more transparent that this? Here we see how the law to remove the official status of Arabic clearly derives from a sense of weakness and a fear that Jews will always be somehow victimized, even in our own land.
As much as the Arabs around us need to come to terms with our presence in the neighborhood, so we also need to come to terms with our own nationhood and our strength and we should be proud of these. There is no need to press the “delete” key on official recognition of Arabic. We are here to stay. Hebrew is here to stay. We do not need to demote Arabic to accomplish that. Let’s nix that law proposal and proclaim our pride in our bilingual status. (If you agree, you might want to sign the petition against this law.)