MK Issawi Frej
MK Issawi Frej Israel news photo: Flash 90

Public broadcasting may soon be available in Arabic, after the Knesset approved in a preliminary reading Wednesday a motion by MK Issawei Friej (Meretz) to mandate Arabic-language broadcasts in the largest public broadcasting corporations.

The bill, if ratified into law, would mandate that public radio include Arabic-language programs which address Israeli Arabs issues, news, culture, and music. 

"With the enactment of a public broadcasting bill which would include a public TV channel entirely in Arabic, it is necessary to strengthen the legitimacy of public broadcasting in the Israeli Arab community," the explanatory note to the bill states, "and ensure that this will not be just broadcasting content in Arabic, but that the content will reflect Arab culture and the issues are on the agenda of Arab society in Israel."

"The bill seeks to ensure that broadcasts in Arabic engage in any combination of topics of concern to Arab society, including the divisions within the Arab society in Israel and between Arabs and Jews, as well as both local and Pan-Arab culture," it continued. "The Public Broadcasting Corporation has a reputation for reliability and not to hesitate to touch on any subject, painful and controversial as it may be."

Freij explained that the bill actually seeks to lessen - not widen - the gaps between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews, by seeking to fight prejudices during a time when the gaps and misunderstandings are more prevalent than ever, in his words.

He noted that, in his view, part of the gap is due to a lack of dialogue between the groups, and that both do not understand the cultural background or perspectives of the other. 

"I want the channel to be a civil discussion and not a propaganda channel," he stated. "We want public broadcasting to reach the population - not to preach in public, but to let it express itself."

18 MKs supported the proposal, paving the way for it to be forwarded to the Knesset Committee of Economics for approval.