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Should Israeli Arabs learn more Hebrew?

Yes, because their job prospects would be greatly enhanced by mastering Hebrew to the same level as Israeli Jews.


Broadcast 2 December 2018. Posted 7 December 2018.

A conversation that took place during a recent week-long visit to Israel and the West Bank provided the topic for my 45th "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.

While the question I pose is discussed in the context of Israel's Arab citizens, it is equally applicable to members of any linguistic minority group anywhere.

Thought for the week

I recently visited Israel. After a conversation about the university education of Israel’s Arab citizens, I thought of a question.

“What happens if action that will make your life better goes against the identity of the community you were born into?”

The background is that most Israeli Arabs attend primary and secondary schools where they are taught almost entirely in Arabic. However Israeli universities teach only in Hebrew. To learn, say, advanced computing in Arabic, Israeli Arabs attend a university on the West Bank.

My view is that to succeed in a society where 80% of the people speak Hebrew, your Hebrew needs to be as good as that spoken by any Israeli Jew. Otherwise, not being able to speak perfect Hebrew just gives potential Israeli employers an excuse to reject you. That is quite apart from any anti-Arab discrimination, which does exist in Israel. Accordingly, I believe that Israeli Arabs should actively choose to attend Hebrew language universities to ensure they master Hebrew.

The response I received was that this would mean Israeli Arabs betraying their heritage.

This is not just an Israeli question. In Britain, my extended family of Pakistani origin use English for everything. The only exception is when speaking to elderly relatives from Pakistan. We have made our choices, to be English speaking British Muslims of Pakistani origin.

In the same way, there is nothing stopping people choosing to be Hebrew speaking Israeli Muslims of Arab origin.

However, it is a choice that people have to make for themselves. They should feel free to make that choice, instead of being made to feel guilty about it.


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