Some 1,000 people took part in a mass Arabic-language lesson at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Monday night, in an act of protest against the Nation-State Law, which defines Arabic as a “special status” language rather than an official one, sparking outrage from opponents of the law who see it as a downgrade.
“Arabic doesn’t need a special status, it needs a position,” said Samah Salaime of Neveh Shalom, addressing the audience ahead of the language lesson, which was dubbed by event organizers as “the largest Arabic lesson in the world.”
“The state sent us a painful alarm,” Salaime said, adding: “I will keep talking Arabic until my last day.”
“It is important for us to say that it is impossible to cancel out the Arabic language, “said Nadia Massalha, the emcee of the event. “There are residents here who live and speak this language, and we must hold onto it and strengthen it and continue working on ensuring that we have the Arabic language here.”
“The language is our past and our future, as is the Hebrew language, and we are not giving up on it,” Massalha told the crowd.
Also addressing the gathering, singer Miriam Toukan said that Israelis should embrace both Hebrew and Arabic rather than “going backward to the dark days.”
Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh was among the participants at the lesson, repeating after the teacher basic Arabic phrases.
Famous singers Mira Awad and Achinoam Nini also performed at the event, which featured a mixture of Hebrew, Arabic and English songs.
The initiative was a joint effort by a coalition of organizations whose mission is to work toward a shared society: the Abraham Fund, Givat Haviva, Sikkuy and Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel.
“Speaking Arabic is key to the future of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel,” the Abraham Fund stated.
The director of public affairs at Sikkuy, Edan Ring, told The Jerusalem Post that since the law was passed last week Jewish Israelis who opposed the law had not collectively sounded their voices and this was an opportunity for that. He also asserted that there is an increasing interest in learning Arabic in Tel Aviv.
“It’s happening today – say ‘No’ to the Nation-State Law.
Come to the square for the biggest Arabic lesson in the world!” Sikkuy wrote in a post on social media ahead of the event. “We must not allow the Nation-State Law to pass quietly, we must oppose it and build an alternative – a truly shared and egalitarian society.
In the face of the discriminatory and racist law, we will stand together tonight, Jewish and Arab citizens... come and raise your voice! Let’s say ‘No’ to the Nation-State Law and ‘Yes’ to equality and Jewish-Arab
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