The proposed “nation-state law,” which I call (more accurately) the “apartheid law” would relegate Arabic from a co-equal national language to being a language with “special” indeterminate status.
But in the meantime, Arabic is taught fitfully to Israeli Jews in the public education system. Almost everyone who studies Arabic seriously is doing so for one reason: to train to become an intelligence operative. And this tracking starts early–as early as high school. In fact, the graphic here is a flyer distributed at the local high school of Yahud, a town near Ben Gurion airport. At a night devoted to introducing students to potential academic subjects they might wish to explore, they received this piece of propaganda.
A teacher at the school wrote:
This is what the ministry of education of the State of Israel told students beginning their high school studies about the mother tongue of one-fifth of the citizens of the State and half the residents of our land [ed., including the Conquered Territories]. This insulting text includes words like “terror,” “war” (twice), “army” (three times), “violence,” and “enemy.” Words that are missing: “neighborliness,” “culture,” “education.” It appears that Bibi is correct: there is at least one educational system between the river and the sea which promotes hate, racism, and hostility.
The flyer makes clear that the study of Arabic is embedded in the nation’s military-intelligence apparatus. It states that “the Arabic department is supported by the IDF.” The IDF even hosts a four-day “youth battalion” for 10th and 11th graders. And if you’re really good you earn the opportunity to become an “orientalist!” Shades of Edward Said! Further, the ministry proudly notes that IDF “intelligence corps” activities are embedded in the school itself.
But collaboration between the educational system and the intelligence apparatus goes even deeper. The IDF is heavily involved in preparing the high school Arabic curriculum. And you can be very sure that the material taught has exactly the same Islamophobic flavor of this web page.
Instead of “taking seriously” Islam, its culture and traditions, the ministry calls for “taking seriously Islam and its beliefs on a military level.” You can imagine how much real understanding of Islam this perspective will instill in Israeli students. Arabic is only useful as a means of understand and frustrating the implacably hostile intent of the “Muslim enemy.”
The web page closes with the ominous slogan, more befitting of the surveillance state, “Arabic: wherever you look!”
A knowledgeable Israeli who commented on the Facebook post dedicated to the flyer wrote:
[The teaching of Arabic] begins with the fact that it is taught by Israeli Jews [non-native speakers] and not Arabs. For the former, the language is a dead relic, not living nor developing. That’s because teachers don’t use it for the purposes of day-to-day life, culture, as Arabic is used [by native speakers]. Rather it is as the language is viewed by Israeli Jews, growing from their political relationship (in which they dominate the educational system) to the Arabs of Israel. The focus is certainly on the military-political aspects as it has been throughout the history of the study of Arabic in Israel. And every attempt to paint (even in the most positive fantasies) the study of Arabic by Israeli Jews as something whose purpose is to draw them closer to culture or broader enlightenment [regarding Arabs] is completely naive.
At the university level, the “Arabists” are invariably creatures of the security apparatus. They’re teaching the language to future Shabak and Mossad agents. They are not there in the traditional sense that one expects faculty to research and teach about the full spectrum of their academic field of interest: traditions, culture, language, religion, etc. Bar Ilan’s Mordechai Kedar is an example of such a figure. Aside from his teaching, he frequently represents the interests of hasbara in interviews in the Arab media. Within Israel, his role is to validate the worst Islamophobic impulses of the average Israeli and give them an academic imprimatur. A similar example is the political slogan used by Avigdor Lieberman to promote his election campaign: “he speaks Arabic.” Which doesn’t at all mean what one might think. He doesn’t “speak” Arabic in the traditional sense. But he “understands” the Arab mentality [sic] and knows how to fight it. That is what “speaking Arabic” means in (Jewish) Israel.
When pro-Israel hasbarists cluck about the so-called hate-filled, anti-Israel Palestinian educational curriculum, they fail to look in the mirror at the hate and mistrust they sow in their own educational system. It is one thing to want to learn about a nation or religion which competes with one’s own. That seems prudent and wise. But to have only one purpose in encouraging such learning–to destroy them–is entirely another.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.