Man reads Arabic newspaper in J'lem.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Abraham Fund announced on Sunday that it has found that many official
government websites do not provide adequate information or services in the
The websites of 11 government ministries and key
institutions fail to provide any information in Arabic.
ministry websites were found to have no Arabic-language information: Interior;
Welfare and Social Services; Communications; Religious Services; Culture and
Sport; Development of the Negev and Galilee; and Science and
Prof. Yoni Mizrahi from Jezreel Valley College conducted the
study for the Abraham Fund Initiative, which promotes the integration and
equality of Arab citizens.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, the coexecutive
director of the fund in Israel along with Muhammad Darawshe, told The Jerusalem
that there are two reasons the government websites need to be in Arabic as
well, arguing that Arabic is an official language of the state and “it is the
obligation of the government to Israel’s Arab citizens to recognize the Arabic
language and offer services.”
Beeri-Sulitzeanu added that there is a
large demand for Arabic-language services, especially from older Israeli Arabs.
Providing these services, he says, is a practical step that will help people and
will be seen as a positive statement by the government to its Arab
The press release by the Fund further noted the importance of
some of the ministries that do not provide full translations. The initiative’s
co-directors also called for legislation forcing government websites and
documents to be translated.
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In an interview with the Post
Dr. Aviad Bakshi, an academic and the director of legal affairs at the
Kohelet Policy Forum, argued that Arabic is not an official language in
practice, and that subsequent laws had negated the language’s legal
The academic worked with the Institute of Zionist Strategies on
the intellectual groundwork for the proposed Basic Law: Israel as the
Nation-State of the Jewish People, which then-MK Avi Dichter submitted as a bill
The proposal sought to establish Israel as a state for the
Jewish nation, and called for demoting Arabic from its official language status,
and instead giving it a “special” status.
Arabic’s position as an
official language comes from law established during the British Mandate
Bakshi pointed out that if it were an official language, one would
be able to submit paperwork in Arabic or speak the language when addressing the
Supreme Court, and that state ceremonies would be held in Arabic as well.
However, he said, this is not the case.
In addition, he argued that later
laws passed by the Knesset had, in effect, abrogated the Mandate-era law. Bakshi
cited as an example a procedural law in criminal courts that states that if
someone wants to submit evidence to the court or be a witness, he or she must
use a translator if the material is not in Hebrew.
Laws on non-Jews
acquiring Israeli citizenship also make this point, Bakshi claimed, stating that
according to the law, the person has to show some knowledge of Hebrew. This law
was directed toward Israeli Arabs who marry Arabs from other countries and want
to get them citizenship.
Asked by the Post
about the Abraham Fund study
and its call for full Arabic services on government websites, Bakshi said that
he agrees with the premise that government services and websites should be
accessible to minorities and that the level of Arabic-language services needs to
be improved. He pointed out that the Basic Law proposal also calls for an
improvement in the availability of Arabic.
However, he differed with the
Fund on the issue of Arabic being an official language because it is something
symbolic, which deals with the identity of the state.
“If someone gives
papers to the court in Arabic and has a translator, this is one thing, but for
the judge to write the decision in Arabic is another,” he
Beeri-Sulitzeanu reacted to this argument by stating that “it would
send a negative signal to Arab citizens and it would tell them that their
language and cultural heritage are of a lower status.”
should refrain from passing such a law as it will not promote a sense of
belonging,” he said.
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