Quantcast i24NEWS - Arabic language classes thrive in Israel despite downgrade in official status


Arabic language classes thrive in Israel despite downgrade in official status

Arabic language classes thrive in Israel despite downgrade in official status

(Illustrative) Israeli Arab Maram Faour, a teacher from the Arab town of Kabul gives an Arabic class to Israeli schoolchildren in a school at the northern Israeli village of Yokneam, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2011.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty

When Hadas Zamir returned to Israel in 2013 after many years living abroad, the first thing she did was looking for a beginner’s Arabic-language class. With the idea in mind of starting work in the field of non-formal education, she believed studying Arabic could help boost her career.

“Everybody should study Arabic here, it’s the language of the Middle East and, as citizens of this region, it’s our duty to do so, otherwise it will create further separation,” Zamir told i24NEWS.

Now two years into the learning process, you can spot her on a typical Wednesday summer night practicing her intermediate colloquial Arabic conversation skills at “This is Not an Ulpan”, an informal language school located in the heart of Tel Aviv. Together with around six other students, Zamir is part of a growing number of Israelis who recognize the importance of learning Arabic in Israel.

On July 19, Israel’s controversial Jewish Nation-State Law stripped Arabic of its official language status downgrading it to one with "special status", while at the same stating that the change in title “does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.” The move sparked concern nonetheless, and even President Reuven Rivlin reportedly vowed to sign the law in Arabic in an act of protest against the demotion of the language's status.

In protest of the downgraded status, local NGOs and private citizens organized and took part in what has been dubbed the largest Arabic language class in the world in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square last July.

Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu, co-director of The Abraham Fund, which helped organize the event, explains that the status of Arabic language post-Nation State law is a reflection of the current political situation.

“Among all the bill’s implications, the downgrading of Arabic is more than symbolic because it paved the way to openly treat Arabs even worse than before,” he claims.

Proponents of the nation-state law argue that it enshrines Jewish and democratic values equally, while critics say it discriminates against minority groups in Israel.

“Arabic was already treated as a second-class language, so the bill confirmed what we already knew. But at least it managed to keep its official status, until now. This move will be a threat for the future of peace and it’s only one alarming implication of social stratification,” Sulitzeanu told i24NEWS.

“It’s an attempt at officially marginalizing the native minority of Israel and don’t consider them integral part of policy and decision-making” he says.

The public Arabic class in Tel Aviv was not the first of its kind The Abraham Fund helped organize.

“For the past 15 years we’ve tried to promote Arabic language learning in Israel, which we consider the most important symbol of Arab citizens of this country,” Sulitzeanu explains.