Israeli Policy to promote Arabic Language Education

Andrew Warner reports on a proposed policy that would mandate Israeli students begin learning Arabic early in their education

Skyline of the Old City at the Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

A member of the Israeli legislature, the Knesset, has submitted a bill that would require Israeli children to study Arabic in school. Currently, it is common for Israeli children to study Arabic throughout middle and high school, however it is not a subject required by law.

The new bill, which was proposed at the end of last year, would make it mandatory for Israeli children to begin Arabic studies in elementary school all the way through the end of their schooling, according to an article published in the Jewish News Syndicate in December 2020.

“It is imperative for our children to be able to communicate and engage with Arabs in Israel and neighbors in the region,” said Michal Cotler-Wunsh, the Knesset member behind the policy, in an interview with JNS.

Currently, Arabic is recognized by the Israeli government as a minority language with special status and government documents are published in both Hebrew and Arabic. From the beginning of Israel’s statehood in 1948 to 2018, Arabic had served as an official language alongside Hebrew, however the Basic Law, which went into effect in 2018, downgraded Arabic’s status. Alongside the large population of Palestinians, many Israeli Jews hail from predominantly Arabic speaking regions and as a result, approximately 20% of Israel’s population speaks Arabic.

Cotler-Wunsh sees the policy as a potential means for Israelis to bridge cultural and linguistic gaps with Palestinian Arabs and Israel’s other neighboring countries, where Arabic is the predominant language. According to JNS, the policy would emphasize written and spoken skills in the language in order to better facilitate communication with Arabs living in and around Israel.

“I am hopeful that this will provide the path forward to mutual recognition, enhanced conversation, coexistence and sustainable peace with additional peoples and countries in our region and beyond,” Cotler-Wunsh said.

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