Israel Marks Third Annual Arabic Language Day

Israel Marks Third Annual Arabic Language Day

July 6, 2018

 On July 3rd, Israel marked its third annual “Arabic Language Day.” Originally a day of discussions in the Knesset initiated and hosted over the past three years by MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List), this year the initiative also included a week-long public Arabic-learning campaign issued by the Jerusalem Light-Rail system in cooperation with Madrasa, a free Arabic-learning online initiative, recognition and encouragement by President Rivlin, and several statements and reports issued by civil society organizations. Most of the activity still took place in the Knesset, which held a full day of special sessions and committee discussions.

The Knesset Education Committee convened for presentations and discussion on Arabic in the public education system:

  • The Abraham Fund Initiatives (TAFI) presented a position paper (Hebrew) calling on the government to implement a 2016 commitment to widen the scope of spoken Arabic lessons in the Hebrew-language public school system. Currently, spoken Arabic classes that do take place in the Jewish public education system lack a cultural component nor an obligation to employ Arab teachers. Together, TAFI and The Van Leer Institute presented guidelines for a spoken Arabic program for grades 1-12 in all Hebrew public schools.   
  • Sikkuy: The Association for Advancement of Civic Equality also presented a paper on the teaching of spoken Arabic in the Hebrew-language education system, mapping barriers and suggesting policy changes. The research (Hebrew) found that although both Arabic and English are taught as "second languages" in the Hebrew public schools, the percent of Jews who say they can understand or speak Arabic as a result of their schooling is significantly lower (1.6% of Jewish Israeli's over the age of 20) than those that speak English (around 40%). In addition, Sikkuy's findings suggest that the Ministry of Education "does not monitor the number of schools that teach Arabic, the number of students learning it and the level of results," and that "this in and of itself presents a significant barrier to the advancement of Arabic learning." 

The Knesset Research Center issues a number of short publications commissioned by MK Jabareen especially for Arabic language day, including:

  • A report showing only 4% of Jewish students take Arabic language matriculation exams (Hebrew)
  • A report on government spending on marketing and publication in other languages (Russian, Amharic, and Arabic) show publication budgets for Arab society have been growing since 2015 yet make up a small percentage of overall marketing and publication expenditures. In 2016, with the exception of TV advertising (there are almost no Arabic TV outlets in Israel), spending on Arabic marketing made up 41% of expenditures (35% of all radio, 46.6% of all newspaper and 81% of all billboard advertisement). However, this represents only 4.9% of the entire budget of the government's advertising services (Hebrew).
  • A report issued in March 2018 reviewed implementation of a 2011 Ministry of Health memorandum on the need to enhance language and cultural accessibility in various Israeli health services. The report showed uneven implementation with gaps related to translation of materials, translator training, and cultural training for ministry of health staff, and evaluation. (Hebrew).

The Knesset Committee on Women Status and Gender Equality held a special discussion on "Women Creating Art in Arabic" as well as on "the severe shortage of public transportation in the Negev and its effect on the lives of women".

Knesset Plenary Discussion: The day concluded with a plenary discussion on “Arabic Language and Equal Partnership: Initiatives to Promote Arabic in Israel.” A number of MKs and civil society representatives spoke about the importance of Arabic in the public sphere and other aspects in which greater use, exposure and knowledge of Arabic in Israel would be useful, with presentations in Arabic that were simultaneous translated to Hebrew. For example, MK Yossi Yona (Zionist Camp), used the opportunity to call (in Arabic) upon PM Netanyahu and the heads of the moderate Arab states to come together against common enemies.

President Reuven Rivlin on Arabic Language Day:

President Rivlin posted on his Facebook page that he was "saddened that today, despite Arabic being a formal language of Israel, few of us know it," referring followers to a special online Arabic language school called Madrasa and encouraging them to learn to speak Arabic "because language is the road that passes from the ear to the heart." Rivlin shared a video prepared by Madrasa for Arabic Language Day, (Hebrew), which portrays in a humoristic way just how many Arabic words are used daily and commonly by Jewish Israelis, as well as how often they are actually misused…the video ends with the message "Arabic is already spoken – now is the time to learn it!"

Finally, ACRI issued a special statement (Hebrew) on their Facebook page that discussed the important role of Arabic in Israel's public sphere in making services accessible to Arab citizens and for allowing the Arab minority to preserve its culture and heritage. ACRI called on the government to refrain from undermining the status of Arabic, as is suggested by various versions of the Nationality Bill that passed a First Knesset Reading earlier this year

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