One of the declared goals of the Netanyahu government is to ensure that Israeli
schoolchildren receive a strong Zionist education. To this end, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu appointed Gideon Sa’ar as his education
Sa’ar has long distinguished himself as a critic of
post-Zionist initiatives to transform Israel’s educational curriculum from a
Zionist curriculum which in accordance with the Education Law of 1953 is charged
with inculcating school children with “the values of Jewish culture,” “love of
the homeland,” and “loyalty to the Jewish state,” into one that indoctrinates
Israel’s youth to adopt a post-nationalist, universalist perspective that does
not value Jewish nationalism and rejects patriotism as atavistic and even
In light of the importance that the government has placed on
Zionist education, it is quite shocking that under Sa’ar, the Education Ministry
approved a new citizenship textbook for high school students that embraces the
post- Zionist narrative.
This fall, the new textbook, Setting off on the
path to citizenship: Israel – society, state and its citizens (Yotzim l’derech
ezrachit: Yisrael – hevra, medina v’ezracheya) was introduced into the state’s
official citizenship curriculum. In everything from its discussion of the War of
Independence to globalization and transnational institutions, to Israeli
politics, to the peace process, to Israel’s constitutional debate, to Operation
Cast Lead, the textbook adopts positions that are post-Zionist and even
anti-Zionist. It champions these positions while denying students the basic
facts necessary to make informed decisions on how they relate to their country,
their people and their rights and duties as citizens.
In a letter to
Sa’ar written on October 4, 2011, Bar-Ilan University law professor Gideon Sapir
set out four ways the textbook distorts history and reality. First, in its
discussion of the historical background of Israel’s founding, the book gives
only passing mention to the international legal foundation of the state – the
League of Nations Mandate for Palestine from 1922. The Mandate called for the
reconstitution of the Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel. It granted
sovereignty to the Jewish state over all the territory that today makes up
Israel, Judea, Samaria and Jordan.
The textbook provides no map of the
Instead it suffices with a map of the UN’s 1947 partition plan,
a map of the territory controlled by the Jewish forces before the establishment
of the state, and a map of the 1949 armistice lines.
Sapir explained, “In
the absence of the map of the Mandate, the ’49 map, (i.e. “1967 borders”), is
presented as Israel’s maximal legitimate borders, (with the alternative borders
being the partition map.”
Second, Sapir noted that the book’s explanation
of Israel’s constitutional foundations present the so-called “constitutional
revolution” of the 1990s as utterly uncontroversial. Through the “constitutional
revolution,” the Supreme Court effectively seized the Knesset’s legislative
powers. And as Sapir notes, it justified the move through a distorted
interpretation of laws “reading into them rights that were specifically removed
from them by the Knesset.”
In hiding the controversy surrounding the
“constitutional revolution,” the textbook denies students the ability to
understand current events. Without awareness of the controversy, students emerge
from high school with no ability to understand the current fight between the
court and the Knesset regarding the separation of powers.
As Sapir notes,
the textbook demonizes the political Right generally and in Israel in
While just last month Labor politicians and leftist
commentators called for the government to deny due process rights to right-wing
protesters, Setting off on the path to citizenship presents political violence
as the sole province of the political Right. So, too, while the book claims the
Left has a monopoly on human rights, it tells students that “nationalistic
chauvinism is identified with the rightist character.”
After being told
such a thing, how can a good, enlightened high school student wish to be
identified with the largest political camp in Israel? Indeed, how can he accept
that such a political camp has a right to participate in Israeli “democracy”?
Finally, Prof. Sapir mentions that the chapter on the peace process between
Israel and its neighbors blames Israel for the absence of peace.
chapter begins a discussion of prospects for peace after the 1967 Six Day War.
In so doing, it places the responsibility for the absence of peace on Israel
which, it claims, blocks peace by refusing to give Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem
to the Palestinians and the Golan Heights to Syria. The book paints sympathetic
portraits of the Syrian regime, ignores then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer
to relinquish the Golan Heights for peace, and makes no mention of repeated
statements by Arab leaders calling for the destruction of Israel and denying
Israel’s right to exist.
Aside from the points raised by Prof. Sapir, the
book also criticizes Israel for not fully embracing the post-nationalist world
order represented by the UN. It criticizes Israel for rejecting the legitimacy
of the International Court of Justice’s nonbinding legal opinion from 2004
regarding the security barrier. At the same time, it makes no mention of the
fact that the ICJ’s opinion denied Israel’s right to self-defense and that the
judges themselves included outspoken haters of Israel.
So, too, in
attacking Israel for not embracing the UN as the arbiter of issues of war and
peace, by among other things, refusing to cooperate with the Goldstone
Commission after Operation Cast Lead, the textbook makes no mention of the UN’s
anti-Israel agenda which it advances through every organ of the institution.
High school students who study from this textbook are not told about the UN’s
diplomatic orgy of anti-Semitism at Durban in 2001 in which Israel was singled
out as the most racist, illegitimate evil state on the planet. They are not told
of the UN General Assembly’s insidious 1975 resolution defining Zionism – the
Jewish national liberation movement – as a form of racism.
All of this
actually makes sense. Because the textbook itself claims that the Jewish people
are a religious group, not a nation. In a teaching note, the textbook recommends
“explaining to the students that Judaism in its original meaning is a religion.
The Zionist movement transformed the term, ‘Judaism,’ into a
This shocking assertion, which channels the PLO’s genocidal,
anti-Semitic charter while ignoring 3,500 years of Jewish history, is par for
the course for the textbook introduced into Israel’s high schools under the
The question of how this book was approved was the
subject of an in-depth investigative report written by Gil Bringer and published
in Makor Rishon on December 9, 2011. In a nutshell, the story is yet another
chapter in the well-known tale in which leftist politicians working hand in
glove with leftist academics and leftist media, install leftist political
activists in permanent, “professional” positions within the state bureaucracy in
order to enable their radical policies to outlive their time in
Like all other curricula, the citizenship curriculum is approved
by an Education Ministry bureaucrat. In 2007, then-education minister Yuli
Tamir’s childhood friend and number 3 Anat Zohar, who headed the ministry’s
Pedagogical Secretariat, fired Esther Brand, who was in charge of the
Brand, a religious woman and a resident of
Samaria, was perceived as not being part of Tamir’s political camp. Brand
challenged her firing in labor court. Rather than defend the move, the ministry
offered her an unheard of settlement of NIS 100,000 to walk. She
Brand was replaced by Zohar’s personal assistant, a man in his
early-30s named Adar Cohen.
Cohen is an alumnus of the leftist Israel
Democracy Institute, which has for years labored to introduce post-Zionist
themes into Israel’s education system. As the Makor Rishon report documented,
Cohen served as an adviser to the authors of Setting off on the path to
While the book was being written, for over a year Cohen
delayed granting approval to a competing textbook written by Hebrew University’s
political science professor Abraham Diskin that has a Zionist orientation. In
the end, Cohen approved both books on the same day last August.
to the Makor Rishon report, which I separately authenticated with Education
Ministry officials directly involved in the issue, Cohen has used his power to
distort the proceedings of the professional committee of academics appointed to
advise him in his work. He has sought to delay convening the committee in an
apparent bid to minimize professional oversight of his decision making. And he
used his bureaucratic power to prevent other Education Ministry officials from
endorsing Diskin’s book.
After coming into office, Sa’ar appointed Zvi
Zameret to serve as chairman of the Pedagogical Secretariat – the same position
that Zohar held under Tamir. As the Makor Rishon report explained, Zameret
requested that Cohen convene the professional committee last June to approve a
new, more Zionist curriculum whose composition Zameret had
Cohen informed Zameret that the committee members couldn’t make
it on the date Zameret had suggested. Upon review it worked out that no one had
voiced any objection to the proposed date and so the meeting was convened
despite Cohen’s effort to block it.
According to ministry procedures, the
professional committee’s approval of the curriculum is supposed to precede the
approval of new textbooks.
As Sapir noted in his letter to Sa’ar, the new
post-Zionist textbook that Cohen supports contradicts the new
Ministry officials who spoke with Makor Rishon hypothesized
that Cohen may have wished to postpone the meeting until after Zameret left his
position at the beginning of November. Sa’ar has yet to appoint his
Ministry’s director-general Dalit Shtauber publicly backed
Cohen after the Makor Rishon report was published. Attacking the ministry
officials who spoke to the paper off record, Shtauber claimed that their
off-record comments were anti-democratic. Notably, Shtauber’s defense of Cohen
ignored the post-Zionist content of the textbook he approved.
the Makor Rishon report, coalition chairman MK Ze’ev Elkin called for an urgent
hearing on the textbook in the Knesset’s Education Committee. The hearing, which
was scheduled to take place on January 4, was canceled.
officials claim that the Sa’ar asked committee chairman MK Alex Miller to cancel
the meeting and claimed he was handling the issue within the ministry.
Cohen continues to serve in his position through the end of the year, he will be
eligible for – and all but automatically receive – tenure.
Cohen is only
in his early 30s. If he is granted tenure, he will be able to continue to
control the content of the citizenship curriculum for Israel’s school children
for the next 30 years.
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