Issues like racial discrimination were once kept in check by the left in Israel and the Jewish diaspora in countries like the United States. But that backlash seems to have quietened
The Independent Voices
For more than a decade in Cairo I have used the same well-worn phrase in Arabic to order a packet of cigarettes. And so, on Wednesday it slipped out, when I was at one of my local newsagents in West Jerusalem, where the usual Palestinian staffers nickname me “Egyptian girl” due to my heavy Cairo accent.
But that day, there was a new man at the till
“This is Israel, why are you speaking Arabic?” he said sharply, causing many in the store to turn around.
“If you’re in a country you should speak the language – if I was in the UK I would never dream of talking anything but English. Speak Hebrew.”
Granted, at that moment I was on the Israeli side of the 1967 armistice line which snakes through the contested city of Jerusalem. But even on this side of the line in Israel around 20 per cent of the population – 1.8 million people – are Arab-Israeli. There are also Jewish native Arabic speakers in the country.
Arabic was, until the ratification of the controversial “Nation State” law last year, an official state language. Right now, it has special status, and is certainly not foreign : for example street signs across Israel are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English.