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Israel Passes Bill Mandating Arabic Language Education—Beginning in First Grade

Likud MK Oren Hazan, who introduced the bill, said it will create a culture of coexistence

Jonathan Zalman
October 27, 2015

In May, Likud MK Oren Hazan, a young Israeli lawmaker with a bit of a checkered reputation (see pimping and assault allegations), sponsored a bill mandating Arabic language education in Israeli schools beginning in the first grade. It was approved by Israeli Ministers on Sunday.

When the bill was first proposed it received widespread support in the Knesset, wrote Tablet senior writer Yair Rosenberg, and from Israeli President Rivlin, as well.

Hazan’s legislation would require Arabic to be taught in Jewish schools beginning in the first grade. “Just as you won’t find an Arab citizen who doesn’t know Hebrew after completing 12 years of formal education,” he said, “so too, it’s inconceivable that we maintain a status quo in which a Jew who has completed 12 years schooling doesn’t know how to speak Arabic.” Hazan’s proposal also includes a parallel Hebrew program for Arab schools, though as he noted, most Arab citizens of Israel learn Hebrew as a manner of course.

The educational imperative of teaching Arabic, Hazan surmised, would also foster understanding, a culture of ameliorated coexistence.

Learning Arabic, Hazan wrote in the bill’s text, “will allow students and citizens to understand one another.” Moreover, he added, “knowing the language of the other is the basis for understanding and mutual respect, which are necessary in the current situation in Israel.

Hazan explicitly linked the impetus for his bill to a recently aborted program to separate Jews and Palestinians on buses in the West Bank, chalking the push for the widely-panned plan down to fear. “In our daily reality, with Jews riding the buses in Judea and Samaria and hearing the Palestinians, they are usually afraid,” Hazansaid. “With global terrorism and radical Islam on the rise, the lack of knowledge and understanding leads to fear.” Hazan’s hope is that Arabic education would enable Israelis to talk to Palestinians and dispel debilitating misconceptions. “Knowing the language and being able to communicate with different people can increase our sense of security and serve as a bridge between people,” he said. (At the same time, it remains unclear if Hazan has abandoned his prior support for the West Bank busing scheme.)

After the bill’s passing, Hazan told The Jerusalem Post, “I have no doubt that when the Jewish population will understand Arabic, the way the Arab public understands Hebrew, we will see better days.”

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.