The graduation ceremony at the David Yellin Academic College of Education Thursday was marred by the behavior of Arab students, who refused to honor the national anthem by standing and instead remained seated for its duration. In addition, the entire ceremony was translated into Arabic, in a college that was founded as part of the struggle for the ascendancy of the Hebrew language in the Land of Israel.
Students told Arutz Sheva that they were surprised to discover at the outset of the ceremony that the entire event was translated word by word into Arabic. Every sentence uttered by speakers on the podium was translated into Arabic for the audience, even though all of the Arab students presumably know Hebrew, which is the language in which courses have been taught at the academy since its founding in 1913.
"We felt as if we were in Bir Zeit University," said a student, in a bitter reference to a hostile Arab university in Ramallah. "We are willing to give respect to the Arab public, but there is a limit and a point to everything. The feeling at the ceremony was an uncomfortable one for the Jewish students who were present there."
The straw that broke the Jewish camel's back was the ending of the ceremony, when the Arabs refused to stand for the anthem. "After all of the respect that we gave them in the ceremony, with a sympathetic and egalitarian approach, translation of the entire ceremony into Arabic and more – they demeaned us by not rising for the anthem that gives respect to Israel, the state that sponsored their education," a Jewish student said.
The college said in response: "The David Yellin Academic College of Education is a Zionist academy that believes in and advances the values of the state of Israel. In the graduation ceremony last week the Israeli anthem was played and most of the students, lecturers and parents stood while it was sung. If there were a few students who did not rise for the singing of the anthem, the college is saddened by this."
The David Yellin Academic College of Education was one of the first academic institutions in pre-independence Jerusalem that taught its students only in the Hebrew language, which was being revived at the time as a spoken language. The revival of Hebrew was a central element in Zionist ideology and in the strengthening of the Jewish national spirit.
The college's website states that it was "the first institution to train teachers in Eretz Israel and a later metamorphosis of the 'Ezra' seminary for teacher training, founded by German Jews, where the studies were bi-lingual – general studies being conducted in German and Jewish studies in Hebrew."
The 'war of the languages', which raged throughout the country a short time before the seminary's establishment, came to a head when 18 teachers from the 'Ezra' institutions in Jerusalem and led by the then deputy director of the seminary, David Yellin, submitted letters of resignation. As a result of the 'war,' with the creation of an independent national Hebrew education system, a new institution was established called 'The Hebrew Teachers’ Institute,' where all the teaching was to be conducted in Hebrew.
Ninety-nine years after its founding as part of the war for the Hebrew language – the institute was the scene of a triumph for the Arabic language over Hebrew last week.