The Israeli cabinet has today approved the “national language” bill, which aims to formally define Hebrew as the lone “national language” of Israel, while downgrading Arabic to a lesser status, despite it being the language spoken by some 20% of Israel’s citizens.
The bill’s sponsor is Avi Dichter of Likud, who insists it would set into law Israel’s “national identity,” while Arab MPs in the opposition complain it will turn the nation’s Arab minority into second-class citizens under the law. Officials insist they’ll come up with some “special status” for Arabic allowing it to still be used to access state services.
The bill was initially much farther reaching than that, seeking to declare the right of self-determination within the State of Israel to be “unique to the Jewish people,” and by extension declaring that Israeli Arabs had no such rights. This was the initial rationale for downgrading Arabic.
But that’s a far-reaching and controversial declaration, and in the face of serious opposition, and the risk of an international backlash, the ruling far-right coalition appears to have decided that instead of going for the big declaration all at once, they could just start moving against the Arab minority, which is always popular, a little bit at a time.
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