The initiative to teach Arab students Hebrew as a required subject starting in kindergarten should have been implemented 67 years ago, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday.
The Jewish Home chairman announced the initiative last week. Estimated to cost 30 million shekels ($7.9 million), the program will focus on improving the spoken Hebrew of Arab students in order to allow greater dialogue and communication between the Arab and Jewish populations.
"Starting in the new school year, Arab students will learn the Hebrew language as a compulsory subject from kindergarten to grade 12," Bennett wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday, adding, “You do not talk about co-existence. You create co-existence.”
Bennett noted that in his previous roles as Economy Minister and CEO of a high-tech company, he saw the immense difficulty Arabs have in integrating in the employment market due to the language barrier.
"I believe that the more that Arab students have knowledge of the Hebrew language, their integration into the economy will be better and easier. I believe that knowing the language will enable a better future for us all,” he said.
The Education Minister added, "I made a commitment to reduce disparities, and so it will be. Down the road I'll try to make sure that Jewish children study Arabic. I studied Arabic and it is vital both for coexistence and for the security needs of Israel.”
"I do not understand why they waited 67 years for this simple move, to have Israeli Arabs know Hebrew well. We will continue to lead in education," Bennett promised.
Bennett has long set Arab employment as a key goal of his, including during his stint at Economy Minister in the last coalition during which time he oversaw a $2.5 million program integrating Arabs in the hi-tech industry.
In March 2013, he told the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA) that the issue of increasing the number of Arab women in the workforce is "his baby."