President lambastes Hebrew-only bill

Rivlin says right-wing initiative to cancel Arabic’s official status is counterproductive to coexistence

President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday spoke out against a proposed right-wing bill to annul Arabic as an official language of the state of Israel, saying it would deal a blow to coexistence between Jews and Arabs.

“We have learned of an audacious new attempt to annul the special status Arabic enjoys in Israel,” Rivlin said in an address to the Israel Bar Association of lawyers in Jerusalem.

“We have not yet internalized that the struggle for our home is also a struggle for our ability, all of us, across the entire spectrum of opinions and religions, to learn to live together,” he said.

The bill, which has the support of Knesset members from the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, and Jewish Home parties, proposes to make Hebrew the sole official language of the State of Israel. It would thus break from current law, which mandates that Arabic as well as Hebrew must be used in a wide variety of official functions, including in the court system, government ministries, and official government forms and announcements, Haaretz reported. That law dates back to the period of the British Mandate.

The bill was proposed by lawmaker Shimon Ohayon of the Yisrael Beytenu Party and has the support of David Rotem and Hamad Amar from the same party, as well as Moshe Feiglin of the Likud party and Orit Strock of the Jewish Home party.

Rivlin said he was worried about the recent rise of violence and incitement in Israel’s political discourse.

“We’ve all read and heard of ugly incidents of attacks of a nationalistic, political background: in violent demonstrations between rightists and leftists; on Jewish drivers in their cars; on Arab employees in shopping centers,” he lamented.

“Hateful calls of ‘Death to Arabs’ were not spray-painted on neglected walls in the dead of night, but spoken loudly and clearly, in the light of day,” he said.

“The intensity and extent of the violent incidents surprised us — some of us felt, and still feel, that the volcano atop which Israeli society sits may erupt at any moment.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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