Working Towards Shared Society During a Pandemic

Photo by Neta Cones courtesy of
Photo by Neta Cones courtesy of

Israeli society is steeped in stereotypes, prejudice, and outright racism at the best of times, but in times of heightened social tensions, such tendencies can run rampant if effective counterbalances aren’t in place.

Just like past wars, Covid-19 has galvanized the omnipresent paradigm of “us against them”, once again pitching Arabs against Jews. Only this time, instead of Arabs being portrayed as a fifth column, conspiring with the enemy to bring us to our knees, they are now being depicted as the carriers and spreaders of a deadly disease.

Do ‘Arab Lives Matter”, or are we only interested in the number of transmissions in Arab towns and villages, because we know that unlike us, the virus doesn’t distinguish between Jews and Palestinians? Are we really all in this together for the long run, or is the underlying animosity between us going to tear us apart once again?

The answer to those questions can change depending on the social cues internalized by the general population. Consider for example the positive effects of the significant growth over the last few years of the number of Arab professionals working in the field of medicine. Consider as well, the negative delegitimizing effect of The Nation State Law, passed in 2018, that basically revokes any residual official status given to Arab nationality, culture and to the Arabic language.

Young people are especially prone to such influences; in fact the younger they are the more chances we have of ingraining within their psyche a more nuanced view of Arab society that’s aligned with the goal of creating a truly shared society, based not only on the principles of equality and mutual respect, but also and more importantly mutual caring, empathy and solidarity.

That’s exactly what A.M.A.L. (Hebrew acronym for “Spoken Arabic for All”) has been striving towards during the last ten years. Since 2010, Arab university students taking part in the program have taught over 7,000 Jewish elementary school kids Arabic as a Language of Peace and Arab culture. Creating a positive and nurturing relationship between the Arab students and the Jewish kids is a central goal in and of itself. We view those relationships as potential foundations for bridges that can and should be built between the two societies.

This year could turn out to be our most challenging yet, but we feel that it’s precisely in times like these that our work and efforts could be most consequential. Whether it’s in capsules, online, or on the playground, we intend to be there, to make the Arabic language more accessible and fun; and create an environment where Arab students become role models for Jewish youngsters and where their ongoing relationships create small fissures of hope in the wall of mistrust that still stands tall between our societies.

Learn more about our program here:

About the Author
Ishmael Ben-Israel is the Co-founder and Co-director of A.M.A.L. and the CEO of LingoLearn Online Language Courses.
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