Knesset votes to make Arabic compulsory in schools

Israeli lawmakers voted Wednesday to make Arabic classes compulsory for students from the age of six, in a move backers hoped would help improve ties between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

The vote came amid increasing tensions, with a month-long wave of deadly attacks on Israelis and violent clashes at protests in Judea-Samaria. 

The Knesset voted unanimously in favor of the bill in its first reading Wednesday, with about half of the 120 total MKs in attendance. It will now be studied in committee before returning to parliament for a second and third reading. 

Both Arabic and Hebrew are official languages of Israel, but while the majority of Arabs citizens of Israel speak at least some level of Hebrew, Arabic is not spoken among the majority of the Jewish population.

The bill was introduced by MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who said it was meant to reach out to Arab Israelis.

"Language is a door to culture," he told AFP. "I am looking reality in the eyes and I understand there is no possibility to walk to peace without understanding each other."

Hand in Hand, a center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, also welcomed the vote, with its chief executive Shuli Dichter calling it "a good and important decision."

Arab-Israeli citizens of the Jewish state make up about 18% of its population.

AFP contributed to this report.


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