A recent debacle over whether or not English should be the required language for academic conferences has sparked much controversy in Israel. Israel’s confusing past has opened the door for influences from many different countries that have intertwined their roots and language into Israel’s. From years of struggle for their own country and occupation from many different countries, it is no wonder why some Israelis are very adamant about maintaining their cultural heritage and keeping foreign influence out.
An international organization recently held an academic conference in Israel in which they requested all speakers present their research in English. Their reasoning behind this was because English is the language of international academia and would cater to a much wider audience than Hebrew. Not all participants in the conference were content with this, some even went as far as to say it was, “a lack of self respect”. They seem to see this shift to the English language dominance in Israel as excluding Hebrew from academic research completely, which is not the case. An exception was given to one speaker who was able to present their research in Hebrew, but the rest of the conference went on as planned. As for another reason the conference holders preferred English as the language presented, not all participants were Israelis. Whether or not academic conferences should be held in English, the best option I see is for the choice to be given. The presenters should feel as comfortable as possible speaking in their native language or whatever language best suites their work.
The dominance of English in academia has led to much debate, especially from orthodox Jews in Israel who see themselves as an independent, exclusive country not in need of outside influences. However, this is definitely not the mindset of many throughout the country. The English language is still very prevelant in school systems and is actually a required second language starting from the second grade onward. Some private schools even exist that teach the curriculum of other foreign countries. There seems to be somewhat of an internal conflict of interest when it comes to foreign influence in Israel.
The Ministry of Education is Israel has begun to encourage immigrants to enter the work force as English teachers. Many incentives exist and the demand is overwhelming. With the growing number of universities, private schools, and MBA programs that teach solely in English, it is no wonder why this demand is so high.
No matter the difference in mindset of Israelis, with the growing relations between Israel and the US, the increase in use of the English language will definitely prevail in the country. Also, since English is used as the primary language for foreign relations, it is surely not leaving the dialogue any time soon.