Arabic Downgraded in Israel

Jerusalem: Home to many religions and languages

Israel has passed a “nation-state” law that gives exclusive rights to Jewish people and removes Arabic as an official language. The law states that Arabic will no longer be an official language but says that it will retain “special status” and “will not be harmed.”

Israeli Arabs, Jews, and Christians have voiced opposition to the move. Haaretz, the country’s oldest newspaper, published in both Hebrew and English, printed an opinion article highly critical of the move by Dr. Yonatan Mendel, director of the Van Leer Institute’s Center for Jewish-Arab Relations, director of the Forum of Hebrew-Arabic Translators, and a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking. Mendel pointed out that the 1947 UN Partition Plan, the basis for Israel’s establishment, “rests on a promise at the heart of that plan: a pledge by the Jewish state not to harm the rights of minorities, with an explicit mention of ‘preserving linguistic rights.’”

He also mentioned the government-appointed Or Commission, which investigated Jewish-Arab relations in 2000, and found that “the government must act to erase the stain of discrimination against its Arab citizens,” and discussed linguistic rights, “noting that the recognition of Arabic as an official language was one of the few collective rights that Arab citizens enjoyed and that should be preserved.”

Menorah by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament

In protest, Israeli Arab lawmaker Wael Younis submitted his letter of resignation to the speaker of Israel’s parliament, Yuli Edelstein, who refused to sign it as it was written in Arabic, and Edelstein said Younis could resign in Hebrew only.

“The Arab [lawmakers] tried to pull a stunt by giving me a letter in a language I don’t know,” Edelstein said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “I respect the Arabic language, but I cannot sign a letter that I cannot read.”

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