I follow the news from Israel on the internet, usually with some dismay. Today, however I had a surprise. Moshe Arens, one of the more stubborn right-wing commentators, had an article in Haaretz where he supported the retention of Arabic as an official language in Israel. It’s hard to believe that there is a move afoot to downgrade the status of Arabic, but it’s even more of a surprise to find Arens speaking out against such a move.
For a long time, I have been advocating that Israel and Israelis should be more proactive in identifying themselves as belonging to the Middle East rather than as a European outpost. This means showing more interest and respect towards Arabic culture. One of the most conspicuous aspects of that culture is their incredibly beautiful written script, recognized instantly wordlwide. I therefore came up with the idea that we should adopt the Arabic script for use in Hebrew.
Of course I am not talking about replacing the holy letters of the Torah. These cannot in any circumstances be tampered with. It’s our second alphabet I’m talking about, our written script. What do we need it for? It’s totally replaceable.
The beauty of my proposal is that since Hebrew and Arabic are so closely related, many words would become instantly recognizable to speakers of both languages, just as English and French words are mutually recognizable in print even when they are pronounced differently.
More importantly it would be a huge gesture towards the Arab world that we respect their culture and with to be a part of the Middle East. Such a gesture is long overdue on our part. Sadly, my proposal has been ignored since I first raised it five years ago. With this posting, maybe I can give it a small bump.