The ‘Language Gatekeepers’ own goal

Opening an English-speaking law program would encourage immigration to Israel and help the job market, opponents call it a threat to the Hebrew language.

Law book gavel 311 (photo credit: AP)
Law book gavel 311
(photo credit: AP)
On Tuesday, the Council for Higher Education is expected to rule on our application to open an undergraduate law program (LL.B) to be taught in English. Despite the fact that, in practice, the issue should have been academic, almost technical in nature, the public debate and turmoil raised by the matter nearly shifted the public opinion from the many advantages offered by the program, including the enhancement of ties between us and Diaspora Jews, as described by Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Anatoly Sharansky, and by Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University.
When we initiated the introduction of an undergraduate law program in English, we imagined an academic program that would promote academic research in Israel and grant foreign students the opportunity to study law here, in Israel. And indeed, following many publications on the matter, many North American and European Jews contacted us, wanting to utilize the initiative toward encouraging their children to immigrate to Israel, seeing that this would give them a real opportunity to study law in Israel, in their language.
Opening an English-speaking program would lead to the immigration of quality Jewish youngsters from all over the world, who will improve the Israeli labor market, granting them the opportunity to integrate within the Israeli society and plant roots in the country.
The opponents, who presume to be “Language Gatekeepers”, hurried to adamantly state that ‘a law program in English is no less than an existential threat to the Hebrew language…’. You heard correctly, an “existential threat”.
TRUTH BE told, we expected there to be opposition, but we did not think it would come from the same people who encourage Jewish immigration to Israel. What the opponents missed is that the entire plan was devised to correspond with the content taught in law programs in Hebrew and it includes extensive translations of judgments and statutes from Hebrew to English. All so that the students enrolled in the program study the same jurisprudence studied by the Israeli lawyers. But the objectors are insistent – an “existential threat”, they say.
We can all relax. Opening the program to English studies will not impair the Hebrew language nor undermine its existence – the Hebrew language is strong and solid. We are not living in the age of language wars of the early 20th century. Hebrew is the popular mother tongue used by the absolute majority of Israelis today. On the other hand, it is the battle led by the “Language Gatekeepers” against Jewish youngsters’ true desire to come to Israel, study and work, plant roots and develop – that will damage the bridge that we are trying to build between us and the young generation of world Jewry.
The opponents are missing an important point. Student exchange programs are impossible without teaching in English; academic collaboration is impossible without use of the global language – English; and without English studies, we cannot conduct dialogue with other cultures, introducing the foreign students to the Israel culture. Clearly, the quality of Israeli academia depends on increased cooperation with foreign academia; and accepting their position will bar the doors of higher education to the challenges of globalization in the 21st century. It is equivalent to someone refusing to accept that the world has changed, that “the cheese has moved”.
On Tuesday, the Council for Higher Education is expected to rule on our application to open an undergraduate law program to be taught in English. I hope that it will make the correct decision – for the academia, for the students and yes, for the Zionist vision.
The writer is dean of the law school at the College of Law and Business and initiator of the program for teaching law in English.