(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
During a Shabbat Tarbut [Saturday Culture] event in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Saturday, Labor leader Avi Gabbay was challenged by reporter Roee Katz to demonstrate that he is able to comprehend and converse in English.
While Gabbay seemed at ease when faced with this demand on Saturday, this has not always been the case.
Before wining this summer's Labor leadership elections and becoming the head of one of the largest parties in Israeli politics, Gabbay said that his opponents tried to shame him in a similar manner to the way former Israeli politician David Levy was treated.
During his political life, Levy, who was born in Morocco and speaks fluent French in addition to Hebrew, had to fend-off jokes and accusations he could not speak English properly. His Mizrahi background was often said to be the reason that many questioned his English abilities, especially in contrast with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is often complimented for speaking eloquent and nearly accent-free American-style English.
Despite this, Levy has held various important positions in Israeli government, including serving as foreign minister between 1990 and 1992.
Gabbay, who was born in Israel to Moroccan-born parents, has rejected the accusations about his English-language abilities in the past, complaining that forty years have passed since Levy rose to power, showing that Moroccan Jews are just as able as their non-Moroccan brethren.
"I was an officer [in the IDF], I hold academic degrees, I was the CEO of an international company for four and a half years," Walla news reported
in June. "What does he [Labor politician Erel Margalit] think? That I can't speak English?!"
The question of how important it is for world leaders to master languages other than their native tongue is an tenuous one. While Arabic the second official language - English being the third, Arab-Israelis often point out that few Jewish Israelis know even basic Arabic despite the official statues of the language.