As the number of Arabic-speaking Jews in Israel dwindles, interest in the language among the younger generation has waned to the point that some university Arabic departments are contemplating closing down. Scott Wilson in The Washington Post has the story (via Tom Gross):
"Rosh Haayin, a town of 30,000 on Israel's coastal plain, highlights the demographic challenge facing military recruiters as the flow of Jews from Arabic-speaking countries dries up and the first new immigrant generation dies off.
"Jews from Yemen, raised speaking Arabic, once dominated Rosh Haayin. But they now account for roughly 10 percent of the population, composed mostly of middle-class Jews with European and Russian backgrounds who have little interest in Arabic. "There are very few native Arabic speakers left in the Jewish population," said Carmit Bar-On, who teaches the language at the high school here. "There is a problem teaching Arabic because there is a problem between Arabs and Jews."
"After military service, fewer and fewer Israelis are studying the language in university, threatening the future of some Arabic departments.
"At 73, (Sasson) Somekh, the retired professor, is the dean of Arabic studies in Israel. He arrived a native Arabic speaker from Baghdad in 1951 after graduating from high school there. His Arabic classes swelled following the 1973 Middle East war, then dipped when the first Palestinian uprising began in 1987, he said. Since the Oslo accords, enrollment has fallen more than 30 percent, even though, he said, "the threat to Israel is higher than ever."
"Reflecting the mood in Israel, he lamented, "A friend of mine tells me we are now a high-tech economy that the Arabs have nothing to do with, so now we can turn our eyes to the West."
"Three years ago, after Somekh had stopped teaching full time, the university president told him that he was considering closing the department. "I told him the whole world will say the largest university in Israel just closed its Arabic department," Somekh said. "That scared him. But there is still this feeling of needing to get away from them as far as possible. This is the attitude shown toward Arabs and toward Arabic."