Knesset Day Dedicated to Arabic Language

Knesset Day Dedicated to Arabic Language

May 27, 2016

On May 24th, the Knesset dedicated an entire day to discussion of Arabic language—the second official language of the state—in Israeli society. 

The day was initiated by Joint List MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen in cooperation with several civil society organizations including Manarat: Van Leer Center for Jewish-Arab Relations, Sikkuy, The Abraham Fund Initiatives, Dirasat: Arab Center for Law and Policy, and Merchavim, all of which have worked for the enhancement of Arabic’s status in the public sphere as part of creating a more shared society in Israel.

MK Yuli Edelstein, speaker of the Knesset, said: "Language is a very important bridge between cultures and nations and I am convinced that mutual familiarity with the neighbor's language...can significantly lower the wall of alienation."

The day was divided between committee sessions, a special conference on the status of Arabic as an official language, and an afternoon plenum conducted entirely in Arabic with simultaneous Hebrew translation.

In the committee sessions, various issues relating to the status of Arabic were discussed including significant announcements regarding upcoming policy changes.  The Transportation Committee addressed the matter of Arabic signage in public transportation stations and Gabi Navon, of the Transportation Ministry, promised that by the end of August there would be Arabic signage in all public transport stations in the country and that signs and vocal directions would be translated in buses serving areas where 50 percent of the residents are Arabs. The Education Committee reviewed how Arabic is taught in the Israeli public school system and the Ministry of Education announced that spoken Arabic would become a mandatory subject for 5th and 6th graders starting next academic year. The Science and Technology Comittee spoke about increasing accessibility to Arabic-language materials on government webpages as a recent report on 31 government websites concluded that around one third of the webpages have no Arabic content.

At the Knesset plenum in the afternoon, both Arab and Jewish MKs addressed their colleagues in Arabic; Arab MKs expressed joy in being able to speak their mother tongue and Jewish MKs expressed pride in knowing Arabic as well as their love for the language and culture.  This was the first time since Anwar Sadat's visit to Israel in 1977 that Arabic has been simultaneously translated into Hebrew at Knesset plenum.

MK Jabareen said many committees agreed to follow-up meetings in several months and there is talk of Arabic language day becoming an annual event.



Israeli Government Websites Failing to Provide Arabic Translations - Haaretz - Lee Yaron - 5.24.16

Israel's Parliament decrees: Arabic Signs in all Bus Stations - The Jerusalem Post - Ariel Ben Solomon - 5.24.16

Tiny Fraction of Culture Ministry Budget Allocated to Arab Language Arts - The Jerusalem Post - Lidar Grave-Lazi - 5.24.16

Found in Translation: Arabic Language Wins Unexpected Approval in Knesset - The Times of Israel - Dov Lieber - 5.26.16

Today on the Knesset Stand: MKs from Likud and Kulanu Will Give Speeches in Arabic - Local Call - Yoni Mendel - 5.24.16 (Hebrew)

Why Arabic? Go Study a Normal Language! - Local Call - MK Ksania Svetlova (Zionist Camp) - 5.17.16 (Hebrew)

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