A new version of a civics textbook emphasizes Israel as a nation state rather
than a democratic one – says Dr. Halleli Pinson from Haifa University in her
recent Haaretz interview. Pinson will soon publish a report on the civics
textbook To be Citizens in Israel in cooperation with the Dirasat Arab Center
for Law and Policy.
Her main claim is that the textbook was changed in
2001, and that it now promotes intolerance against the Arab citizens of Israel,
who must also study from the book for the matriculation exams.
even a superficial examination of the textbook yields an utterly different
conclusion: While only 40 pages of the book are dedicated to Israel’s Jewish
attributes, its democratic nature is covered by 150 pages. The government in
Israel – a subject that relates mostly to Israel’s democratic governmental
characteristics – receives more than 300 pages.
The summary chapter
explains that the state of Israel is both Jewish and democratic and includes the
essay “To be an Arab citizen in a Jewish and democratic state” written by the
Israeli-Palestinian scholar Dr. Aadal Man’aa.
A deeper examination
of the textbook shows that its main orientation is actually to support the
state’s democratic component, while Israel’s Jewish nature is often described as
the cause of conflicts and rifts within Israeli society. The state’s democratic
attributes, however, are never shown as problematic, unjustified or
In fact, a Jewish right-wing individual reading the book
will probably find many more “problematic” quotes than did Pinson, and will
wonder why the book hardly has any representation to right-of-center politicians
SOME BACKGROUND: in 2000, a decision was made to change the
book Being Citizens in Israel: A Jewish and Democratic State, because it was
argued that it was “pessimistic” and contained too much criticism of Israel, and
that not enough emphasis was given to Israel’s Jewish nature and
However, the changes were minor and a study performed in the
Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education
(IMPACT-SE) on more than 150 current Israeli textbooks has found that civics
education in Israel, the above-mentioned book included, fulfills all the
standards set by UNESCO for peace and tolerance education.
it should be added that as in other civics books, this textbook contains several
instances of social and political criticism, especially in cases where social
minorities (e.g. Arab-speaking minorities) suffer from inequality or
Strangely, Pinson only notes a few seemingly harmless
quotes, that she deems make the book intolerant toward the Arab population of
Israel. While it is true that two chapters are dedicated to Israel’s Jewish
attributes and Jewish history, a fact that admittedly could cause some Arab
students to identify less with the textbook, Pinson fails to show any
significantly offensive quotes that would sustain her claim of
In one case, she notes, the book implies that Jews living in
other countries should not marry non-Jews.
In another case, Pinson argues
that the word “Palestinian” is spelled in three different ways throughout the
book. One of the quotes she finds most offensive states that, as a general rule,
state borders are determined in various ways, including “political agreements,
occupation and separation of states” – a completely technical (and accurate)
description, one would think.
Pinson is quick to claim that this quote
proves that the book promotes the ideas of occupation and forced displacement
Moreover, Pinson admits that the book contains a chapter
that examines the difficulties of the Arab minorities, but argues that this
material did not appear in last year’s matriculation exam.
is perhaps unfortunate – but it hardly proves that the book itself or its
writers are to blame.
Even aside from this chapter, the book includes
many references to points of view of Arab-speaking Israeli citizens, to their
culture and current situation, and contains several quotes by Arab scholars and
Lastly, the most “alarming” quote Pinson presents claims a
minority is allowed to freely realize its culture as it wishes, but that it
cannot change the culture of the state.
However, one could argue that
this quote actually promotes cultural tolerance in much the same way as we see
other Western democracies: minorities can have their own cultural customs, but
national cultural elements such as currencies, flags and national anthems remain
the same as they always were, even in states with large ethnic or religious
FINALLY, PINSON’S allegations are troubling because they show
how even respected Israeli scholars cling to academic findings that are
ambiguous at best in order to promote an agenda that vilifies the Israeli
government, even with little or no proof for their allegations.
ironically, claiming Israeli civics textbooks are intolerant or racist puts the
blame on the people that are most devoted to the goal of education for
democracy, peace and co-existence in the Middle East.
The author is a
researcher at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in
School Education (IMPACT-SE).