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Israel Could Drop Arabic as an Official Language

Lawmakers support legislation which would change Israel’s accepted definition as a “Jewish and democratic state.”
By: Sammy Hudes
Published: August 4th, 2011 in News » Israel
Ze'ev ElkinPic: Tomer Appelbaum

Members of Knesset from both the coalition and opposition submitted a proposal yesterday that seeks to rid Arabic as one of Israel’s official languages.

Forty lawmakers backed the proposal to the Knesset for the new Basic Law,which would change the accepted definition of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” Currently, Hebrew and Arabic are the only two official languages of Israel, with English having semi-official status.

The bill was initiated by MKs Avi Dichter of Kadima, Ze'ev Elkin of Likud and David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu. It was supported by 20 of 28 MKs from the Kadima party and if passed, would make democratic rule in Israel subservient to the state’s definition as “the national home for the Jewish people.”

Sources at the Knesset say that the potential law currently has broad support, and they expect it to be passed during the Knesset’s winter session, according to Haaretz. Labor, Atzmaut, Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union lawmakers have reportedly offered their support for the legislation.

Elkin says that the law is intended to clarify for Israeli courts “the state as the Jewish nation state in ruling in situations in which the Jewish character of the state clashes with its democratic character.” Elkin told Haaretz that “the courts deal with this issue quite a lot, such as with the Law of Return as a discriminatory law.”

The bill explains that Hebrew would be left as the only official language in Israel, however Arabic would have “special status.” Arabic speakers would “have the right to linguistic access to the services of the state, as determined by law.”

Another clause of the bill that would solidify Israel’s Jewish nature, states that Jewish law will be a source of inspiration to the legislature and the courts. In the future, MKs would legislate in the spirit of Jewish law and courts would impose judgements according to it in certain cases where no other law exists.

According to the bill, which was formulated on the initiative of, and in cooperation with the Institute for Zionist Strategies, “If the court sees a legal question requiring a ruling, and finds no solution in legislation, custom or clear analogy, it will rule in light of the principles of freedom, justice, integrity and peace in Jewish heritage.”

Elkin feels that the influence of the bill on Israel’s international image is not a cause for concern.

“If we were talking about the world in which the United Nations equates Zionism with racism, there might be a problem,” he said. “But today the world is ready to accept this.”

Related articles: Israel, Hebrew, Arabic, official language, Knesset, MK, Avi Dichter, Ze'ev Elkin, David Rotem, Kadima, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Atzmaut, bill, law, Jewish heritage
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