Dear Mayor Ron Huldai,
I had the wonderful opportunity to hear you speak at the Tel Aviv International Salon last week about the fantastic city of Tel Aviv.
I so appreciated that you took time out of your busy schedule to speak to the young Anglo community.
I am an olah hadasha from St. Paul Minnesota and believe me, it is terrific to be here, especially during the winter — what winter???
TA is a vibrant place and under your stewardship it has grown and prospered. I love those green bikes! I love the museums, theater, music, ballet, arts etc. The people are terrific.
There is tremendous tolerance and diversity especially for the Gay community and why not? That is the way it should be, in every city throughout the world.
In the Q and A session following your talk, an Israeli Jewish resident of Yafo raised a sensitive issue asking you to reconsider placing Arabic in the city’s logo along with Hebrew and English.
Of course, I was disheartened to hear such an innovative thinker as yourself answering with such an abrupt “No!” You gave many reasons why, especially that there is only a 4% Arab population.
You also asserted that Arabic is not a given in other areas of the culture. While that is true and generally the language politics’ game plays out around street signs, etc. but in 2002 the Supreme Court ordered that signs in Tel Aviv also include Arabic.
More importantly Arabic appears on my Teudat Zehut (identify card) and my Darkon (Israeli passport). These are the two documents most closely tied to both personal as well as civic identity.
You bemoaned the fact that the government controls so many aspects of the municipality’s functioning such as the police and transportation, other structures and customs left over from the British Mandate period. Yet in this one area concerning Arabic, Tel Aviv lags behind the State of Israel! I didn’t know I was living in a city-state.
As a Sephardica scholar too, preceding my studies in Aljamiado-Morisco literature, I know well the history of Arabic-Hebrew relations but there seems to me to be a glaring blind spot which is obstructing clear thinking concerning this matter — namely that of shame and honor.
Wouldn’t it be such a simple gesture of giving honor to the Arabic speaking community at a time when both communities are under such duress? The Israeli Arabs, by and large, feel themselves to be vested citizens of the state. Do you not want them to feel as invested in Tel Aviv?
I felt your bravado in claiming that TA is the first Hebrew city in modern Israel. That can never be taken away from her.
We, Tel Avivans, can only be more dynamic when diversity is genuine. Why should our Jewish honor feel under attack if Arabic is added to the logo? Not to write it in, is in the long term, sending a message that Israeli Arabs are not welcomed to come and live here. I didn’t know that I was living in Safed or Nazareth or Beit Shemesh where religious intolerance has reared its ugly head.
It is still not too late to reclaim a genuine sense of honorable magnanimity rather than a pseudo sense of honor masking a hyper inferiority about being Jewish.
Last week elsewhere on line, I wrote a thank you note to Abdo Khal, a prominent Saudi novelist, and to Tina Brown, the editor of Newsweek concerning the illusion of diversity or should I say, delusion of diversity in Saudi Arabia.
This week I write to you. In closing:
Is the absence of Arabic from the Tel Aviv Municipal logo a symptom of a delusion of diversity? I hope not but don’t forget in its early days TA started as a neighborhood of Arab Yafa.
Progressive democracies promote proper representation to its minorities by means of imprints in the symbolic public domain. We should ask ourselves would we like Tel Aviv and the State of Israel to be a flawed democracy or a vibrant one?
Thanking you in advance for your time and looking forward to seeing Arabic along side Hebrew on our city’s letterhead soon.
Wishing you all the best for the New Year,
Nancy Kobrin, PhD