Arabic language in Israel

The Arabic language in Israel is spoken natively by a large proportion of the population, reaching over 20 percent of the total population, mainly by the Arab citizens of Israel and among the Arabic-speaking Jews from the Arab world.

Among Arabs and Druze, the vernacular spoken is identical to Palestinian Arabic, while Bedouin traditionally speak their own dialect of Arabic. Many first-generation Mizrahi Jews in Israel can still speak Judeo-Arabic languages, while their Israeli-born descendants have overwhelmingly adopted Hebrew as their first (or sole) language.

Standard Arabic was co-official with Hebrew until 2018. Its status is currently that of an auxiliary language.

According to Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, which was adopted on 19 July 2018,[1][2] Arabic language is not an official languages in the State of Israel but has a special status and is used in official documents by law. Before the adoption on 19 July 2018 of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,[3][4][5][6][7][8] the Arabic language was one of the two official languages in the State of Israel, along with Modern Hebrew[9] and is used in official documents by law.


Modern Standard Arabic (also known as Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic), along with Modern Hebrew, is the second official language in Israel. Spoken Arabic dialects are spoken primarily by Arab citizens of Israel and Israeli Druze, as well as by some Mizrahi Jews (Yemenite Jews, Egyptian Jews, Syrian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Sephardic Jews (Moroccan Jews, Tunisian Jews, Libyan Jews, Algerian Jews, and French Jews), particularly those of the older generation who immigrated from Arabic-speaking countries. In 1949, 156,000[10] Palestinian Arabs were left inside Israel’s armistice line, most of whom did not speak Hebrew. Today the majority of Arab Israelis, who constitute over a fifth of the Israeli population, speak Hebrew fluently, as a second language.

For many years the Israeli authorities were reluctant to use Arabic, except when explicitly ordered by law (for example, in warnings on dangerous chemicals), or when addressing the Arabic-speaking population. This has changed following a November 2000 supreme court ruling which ruled that although second to Hebrew, the use of Arabic should be much more extensive.[11] Since then, all road signs, food labels, and messages published or posted by the government must also be translated into Literary Arabic, unless being issued by the local authority of an exclusively Hebrew-speaking community.

Arabic was always considered a legitimate language for use in the Knesset, but only rarely have Arabic-speaking Knesset members made use of this privilege. This situation can be easily explained: while all Arabic-speaking MKs are fluent in Hebrew, fewer Hebrew-speaking MKs can understand Arabic.

Arabic lessons are widespread in Hebrew-speaking schools from the seventh through ninth grades. Those who wish to do so may opt to continue their Arabic studies through the twelfth grade and take an Arabic matriculation exam. even so students don't reach fluency unless they continue their studies in the military, mostly in order to take part in an intelligence job.

In March 2007, the Knesset approved a new law calling for the establishment of an Arabic Language Academy similar to the Academy of the Hebrew Language. This institute was established in 2008, its center is in Haifa and it is currently headed by Prof. Mahmud Ghanayem.[12][13]

In 2008, a group of Knesset members proposed a bill to remove Arabic's status as an official language.[14][15] Similar bills have been proposed in 2011 and 2014.[16]

In 2009, Israel Katz, the transport minister, announced that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be amended, replacing English and Arabic place names with straight transliterations of the Hebrew name. Currently most road signs are in all three languages. Nazareth, for example, would become "Natzrat".[17] The Transport Ministry said signs would be replaced gradually as necessary due to wear and tear. This has been criticized as an attempt by the Israeli government to erase the Arabic language and Palestinian heritage in Israel.[17][18]

See also


  1. WOOTLIFF, RAOUL. "Israel passes Jewish state law, enshrining 'national home of the Jewish people'". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  2. "Israel Passes 'National Home' Law, Drawing Ire of Arabs". The New York Times. 18 July 2018.
  3. Kershner, Isabel (19 July 2018). "Israel Passes Law Anchoring Itself as Nation-State of the Jewish People". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018.
  4. "The Jewish State Must Remain Jewish". 19 July 2018.
  5. Carey, Andrew; Liebermann, Oren (19 July 2018). "Israel passes controversial 'nation-state' bill into law". CNN.
  6. "Israel passes controversial Jewish nation-state law". ABC News. 20 July 2018.
  7. Lis, Jonathan (19 July 2018). "Israel's Contentious Nation-state Law: Everything You Need to Know". Haaretz.
  8. "Israel adopts symbolic but divisive Jewish nation-state law".
  9. "Dr. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, Relations between Jews and Arabs during Israels first decade (in Hebrew)".
  10. "The official text of the Israeli supreme court ruling (in Hebrew)".
  11. The law in Hebrew in the Israeli official gazette (publication no. 2092 from 28 March 2007).
  12. "Arabic Language Academy – Haifa". 21 March 2007. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  13. "Knesset Hawks Move To Strip Arabic of Official Status in Israel –". Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  14. Ilan, Shahar (17 February 2012). "MKs: Make Hebrew the only official language – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News". Haaretz. Israel. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  15. Liora Halperin (6 October 2014). "The Irony of Erasing Arabic". Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  16. 1 2 CounterPunch, 17 July 2009, Israeli Road Signs: Wiping Arabic Names Off the Map Archived June 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. BBC, 13 July 2009, Row over 'standard' Hebrew signs
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