Sep. 2nd, 2011

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OP-ED Language Becomes a Political Weapon in Israel


TEL AVIV, Sept 1, 2011 (IPS/Al Jazeera) - Speaking to the U.S. congress in May, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu boasted that his country is a beacon of freedom in the Middle East and North Africa, that it is the only place where Arabs "enjoy real democratic rights".

It's true that Palestinian citizens of Israel have some democratic rights, like the vote. But, as Netanyahu told congress: the "path of liberty is not paved by elections alone." And the summer months have seen an acceleration of worrisome anti-democratic trends.

First, the Knesset passed the anti-boycott law, a move that was widely condemned as a strike against free speech and democracy. Even some of Israel’s staunchest supporters expressed concern.

Now lawmakers have introduced a bill that proposes to change the definition of Israel as "Jewish and democratic" to "the national home of the Jewish people".

If passed, the legislation would become part of Israel's Basic Laws, which are used as a working constitution.

Whenever a conflict between democracy and Jewish values arises, the new definition of Israel would allow courts and legislators to favour the latter. According to Haaretz, the proposed bill will also make halacha, Jewish religious law, "a source of inspiration to the legislature and the courts". And, in the spirit of favouring the Jewish character of the state over a state for all its citizens, the legislation would also downgrade Arabic from an official language to one with "special status".

Arabic is the mother tongue of 20 per cent of Israel's citizens. It has been an official language of the land since 1924, when the British mandate set three: English, Hebrew, and Arabic.

Linguistic marginalisation

When the state of Israel was established in 1948, English was struck from the books. While Arabic remained an official language, it has always gotten second class treatment- as have the citizens who speak it.

Many government forms - including those for Social Security and National Insurance - come in Hebrew only. Arabic-speakers are under-represented in the public sector. So if a Palestinian citizen has weak Hebrew, he or she may be deprived of services or benefits they are legally entitled to and desperately need.

The results are sometimes devastating.
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Israel: Netanyahu's problematic wife: Just how a domestic helper at the Netanyahu residence broke her finger is the source of some debate.


Sara Netanyahu, 53, has a propensity for disputes with household staff. This is the third time in three years a menial worker has left her home amid accusations of mistreatment or underpayment.

“Sara-Tara” arrives with almost theatrically bad timing for the prime minister, who is striving not to appear as a member of the economic elite as Israel gears up its “March of a Million” social protesters this coming Saturday.

But the particular detail that tipped Ovadia into unbidden giggles was the extraordinary sequence of some eight consecutive press releases issued yesterday by the office of the prime minister, referred to as “a tempest of press releases” by some media outlets, as his staff toiled to contain this new scandal.

Then, following a stern warning by the attorney general that prime ministerial personnel could not be enjoined to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the first lady, at almost the same moment Kumari was fired, a privately paid spokesman for Sara Netanyahu was hired.

Kumari has worked for two years overseeing the daily welfare of Sara Netanyahu’s 96-year-old father, Shmuel Ben-Artzi, without previous incident. She worked at his private residence for most of that time. In early August, after a brief hospitalization, Ben-Artzi moved in with his daughter, and with him came Kumari.

How she ended up with a broken digit remains in dispute, but the contretemps in the official residence was so loud that the prime minister, who was present in the building and chairing an inner cabinet meeting, reportedly felt obliged to interrupt the business of state several times to go see what was taking place.


Kumari told Army Radio yesterday that life in the prime minister’s official residence was like being “in jail.”

“It is very difficult for me,” she said. “I am not free, and I never go out. Even when I ask for vacation, it is not given to me. Sara says that if I go for a vacation there will be no one to care for her father.”

According to Kumari, the disagreement leading to the fracture occurred after she requested her July paycheck. She said that after she made her request, Mrs. Netanyahu ran toward her, causing her to fall and break her finger.

Ovadia stopped short of saying on the air what the entire country was tittering over, which is that Sara Netanyahu herself, personally and directly, was mismanaging yesterday’s news cycle and issuing the awkward press releases herself — a highly irregular turn of events.MORE



Apparently many people are taking Ms Netanyahu's attempts to contain the news as a joke, instead of paying attention to the serious issue of the continual mistreatment of caregivers by this woman. It pisses me the hell off. 
Related posts: Domestic Workers...are workers

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