Thursday, December 10, 2009

Will Imported Arabic Books be Allowed in Israel?

The Israeli Minister of Finance has objected to a proposed bill which would allow Arabic books published in "enemy" states to be sold in Israel. The reason for his objection is unclear and it is also unclear if this objection will actually halt the bill in its tracks or if it may move forward despite this opposition.

There was recent talk in Israel about lifting this ban on the import of books from Arab countries, especially Syria and Lebanon. There is such a small demand for Arabic language books in Israel that it is not worth the effort of many publishing houses in Israel to translate certain books. Indeed, even Arabic translations of Israeli authors are hard to find in Israel and are more often than not, sourced from places like Syria and Lebanon.

The catalyst for this bill seems to be a bookseller called Kol Bo (everything inside) which was championed by an Israeli NGO that advocates for the Israeli Arab Minority--Adalah. This Israeli Arab had sold and imported Arabic books for some time until his permit was recently cancelled because these books come from "enemy" sources. The new bill proposed to do away with this enemy state legislation and instead allow book imports with limits on books that were offensive, such as holocaust denial.

Opposing this bill seems nothing less than discriminatory and unjustified. Here is a large, linguistic and ethnic minority who want books in their own language. Provisions exist to ensure that hate materials don't make it into the country, what's the problem? Obviously the book trade had continued by Kol Bo when they had a permit, so it's not like there's any concern of suddenly contributing to an enemy economy, but the minister's objection in this case is nonsensical.

Books are vehicles for culture, for knowledge and for understanding. Preventing their import because they come from the wrong side of a line, punishes a minority who should be allowed to read in their first language, but also means that the culture (including Jewish-Israeli culture) and exchange that could normally have taken place in a mutually beneficial way, is being held up.

Shame on the Israeli Minister of Finance. Try opening borders and minds and at least, be fair!

1 comment:

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