This study conducted a comparative survey on the collective rights awarded to national, ethnic or religious minorities in democratic nation states. Five minority groups were selected for the survey which aimed to examine the policy adopted regarding recognition of their rights as a collective group in the fields of language, education and religion. The survey also incorporated findings of a previous survey on this topic conducted by the Knesset Research and Information Center in 2017.
The objective of this paper is to enable a discussion of the collective rights enjoyed by the Israeli-Arab minority in the State of Israel that is based on empiric facts and figures. A broad understanding of the accepted practice in other countries around the world will allow us to conduct a more in-depth examination of this issue in Israel and to determine the degree to which the State of Israel conforms to international norms.
The main findings of the Institute for Zionist Strategies’ comparative survey and of the Knesset study on this topic are presented below in three categories: rights in the fields of language, education and religious:
- 10 of the 12 countries surveyed maintain statutes that obligate the state to provide official documents, public services and access to the court system in the minority population’s language: Denmark (only the courts), Hungary, Greece (only the courts), Macedonia (partial rights), Norway, Spain (except the courts), Finland, and Canada; Belgium and the UK – only for the resident of Wallonia and Wales, respectively.
- In 7 of the 12 countries surveyed, speakers of minority languages enjoy special rights in a district or region with a high concentration of minority populations, such as signs in the minority language, public services in their language and others: Italy, Hungary, Macedonia, Norway, and Finland; Belgium and the UK – only for the resident of Wallonia and Wales, respectively.
- In 5 of the 12 countries surveyed, the minority population’s language has been declared an official local language in districts with a high concentration of minority populations: Italy, India, and Spain; Belgium and the UK – only for the resident of Wallonia and Wales, respectively.
- In 6 of the 12 countries surveyed, the minority population’s language is an official state language without necessarily enjoying an equal legal status as that of the majority: Belgium, UK, Macedonia, Norway, Finland, and Canada.
- In 2 of the 12 countries surveyed, a special committee has been established to promote the minority population’s language: UK and Norway.
- Public education in the minority population’s language or bilingual education is officially guaranteed in all the countries surveyed.
- In practice, in 10 of the 12 countries surveyed, the minority population makes widespread use of educational institutions in their own language or of bi-lingual education: Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Greece, Macedonia, Norway, Finland, Spain, Canada.
- In 3 of the 12 countries surveyed, the minority population pupils are also legally obligated to learn the language of the majority together with their own language studied at the minority language schools: Italy, Macedonia, Finland.
- One of the two countries surveyed provide financial support for, and official recognition of, the minority population’s religion: Greece.
- In 1 of the 2 countries surveyed, there is a secular public domain and a neutral official attitude: India.
Conclusions and Discussion Relating to the Arab Minority in Israel
- In Israel, as in 10 of the 12 countries surveyed, the state is legally obligated to provide official documents, public services, and access to the court system in Arabic. This obligation was legislated during the British Mandate and has been subsequently expanded to include street and road signs.
- In Israel, as in 5 of the 12 countries surveyed, Arabic speakers do not enjoy special rights in regional councils with a relatively large Arab population. Moreover, Arabic is not recognized as an official local language in those areas with a relatively large Arab population – a situation similar to that in 7 of the 12 countries surveyed.
- Arabic was initially recognized as an official language in Israel, alongside Arabic and English, in keeping with Mandatory legislation. However, this status is no longer valid due to a number of court rulings and legislative acts. Although Arabic is not an official language, it has a special status and takes precedence over other minority languages in Israel.
- No special committee for promoting Arabic has been established in Israel – a situation similar to that in 10 of the 12 countries surveyed.
- As in all the other countries surveyed, public education in Arabic is guaranteed in Israel. Furthermore, as in 10 of the 12 countries surveyed, in practice, there is widespread use of Arabic educational institutions among the Arab population.
- As in 3 of the 12 countries surveyed, all minority population pupils in Israel are obligated to learn Hebrew as well as Arabic (from Grade 3).
- The public domain in Israel is not entirely religiously neutral and features certain Jewish characteristics such as the cessation of public services on Shabbat and the official state emblems which are of a Jewish nature. At the same time however, there is official state financial support for and recognition of Islam.
The above findings reveal that the State of Israel meets international standards with regards to collective rights awarded to the Arab minority, especially in the fields of language and edication.