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New Left Review 102, November-December 2016


Nancy Hawker

LESSONS FOR EAVESDROPPERS

Languages get twisted around many tongues. Arabic, in its Modern Standard form, is one of only two non-European languages with official status at the un (Chinese is the other), and the official language of 27 states and territories across Africa and Western Asia, where this formal register is used together with other, variable, spoken registers including the vernacular forms of Arabic. In November 2015, another type of Arabic resounded in the Israeli Knesset: three minutes’ worth of threats and vituperation delivered by Yinon Magal, an elected member of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party. Magal served in the Special Operations unit of Israeli Military Intelligence and has a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The speech he gave was the result of a language-education programme that Yonatan Mendel calls ‘Israeli Arabic’. [1] Yonatan Mendel, The Creation of Israeli Arabic: Political and Security Considerations in the Making of Arabic Language Studies in Israel, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke 2014, $110, hardback 329 pp, 978 1 1373 3736 8 Mendel’s book, based on a dissertation at Cambridge, offers a detailed study of its custodians’ aims and pedagogic methods. Mendel is an Israeli scholar probably best known outside his homeland for his revealing portraits of it in the London Review of Books; he has also provided a striking city study of Jerusalem for nlr. For The Creation of Israeli Arabic he has mined the archives of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Education, the Prime Minister’s Office, the idf and two Arabic-teaching colleges, uncovering some real gems in the process.

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