Haifa Bay
Haifa BayIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav has declared war on the English language -- at least, in official government documents.

Yahav, the first Israeli mayor to be elected in a city that decades ago was referred to as the “Red City” due to its high population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, has expressed his frustration over the growing use of English in the streets of Haifa.

It is not unusual to find an English-language word, for example, spelled out phonetically in Hebrew letters – often giving new immigrants pause and creating comical new combinations in ulpan Hebrew reading classes.

But Yahav has laid down the law at his office, informing municipal workers that common terms such as “pilot project,” globalization” and “fine-tuning” are no longer permitted.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back came, apparently, on the day that Yahav arrived at his barber's premises to find the shop was now labeled "Hair Stylist," in English -- and the owner would not change the wording. Fuming, Yahav left and never returned, according to a report published this week in the Israel HaYom daily newspaper.

The Haifa-born Sabra wants to do away with English-only signage in the city, and legally require businesses to include Hebrew lettering as well on any sign posted.

Yahav's first target for all of his angst is the city's Health Department, whose mini-recycling program is being called an “experimental operation” to avoid using the English words “pilot project.”

The mayor's insistence on “Hebrew only” is reminiscent of the early days of the state, when Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, asked his Cabinet members to Hebraicize their last names. Thus Golda Myerson eventually became “Golda Meir.”