Despite ongoing tension between Jews and Arabs in Israel, there is good news about coexistence on Tel Aviv University’s campus. When its department of Arabic and Islamic studies recently offered a course in “Arabic for Beginners,” the staff were amazed by the response – a total of 907 applicants enrolled within two-and-half hours, and hundreds of others requested that their names be included on the waiting list. The breakdown of enrollees indicates that they belong to all disciplines on campus, including chemistry, medicine, theater, computer science, literature and biology.
The course was taught at the university for many years, and each year, several dozen students interested in the Arabic language and Islamic culture, enrolled. But over the course of the past year, an online version of the course has been developed. Tel Aviv University president Prof. Ariel Porat decided to open the course – free of charge – for every employee and student on campus. This decision, he said, reflects a conviction that every Israeli should have a basic command of the Arabic language and also recognizes the special status of the Arabic language on campus.
Prof. Uriya Shavit, head of the department of Arabic and Islamic Studies and the initiator of the course said that the overwhelming response was amazing. Sixty percent of the enrollees are students, a fifth of the enrollees members of the administrative staff and another 20% members of the academic faculty. Due to the huge demand, both the university management and the humanities faculty management decided to expand the project and open up additional groups.
Along with to studying the Arabic alphabet, a vocabulary of about 200 words, declensions and expressions in spoken Arabic, the course also includes an introductory lecture on the foundations of Islam and the Muslim holidays. Shavit concluded that “there is an across-the-board agreement in Israeli society that Arabic studies should be promoted. The huge demand is a pleasant surprise that indicates a welcome and in-depth change in the attitude to the language.”