The status of arabic in israel: Refiections on the power of law to produce social change

Ilan Saban, Muhammad Amara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The status of Arabic in Israel gives rise to question. Israel is a rare case of an ethnic nation-state that grants the language of minority group with a legal status which is prima facie one of equality. Both Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of the State of Israel. What are the reasons for this special state of affairs? The answer is threefold: historic, sociological and legal. In various ways the potential inherent in the legal status of Arabic has been depleted of content, and as a result of that, as well as other reasons, the socio-political status of Arabic closely resembles what you would expect the status of a language of a minority group in a state that identifies itself as the state of the majority group to be. This answer, however, is another source of puzzlement – how does such a dissonance between law and practice evolve, what perpetuates it for so long, is change possible, is it to be expected? We present an analysis of the legal status of Arabic in Israel and at the same time we proceed to try and answer the questions regarding the gap between the legal and the sociopolitical status of Arabic. We reach some of our answers through a comparison with the use of law to change the status of the French language in Canada. One of these answers is that given the present constellation in Israel, the sociopolitical status of Arabic cannot meaningfully be altered by legal means.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-39
Number of pages35
JournalIsrael Law Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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