Civics lesson

It is high time that trendsetters in our public discourse concede that politicization is in the beholders’ eye.

August 8, 2012 23:00
3 minute read.
Children studying in a library [illustrative]

Children studying in a library 370. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

Rare is the instance that the refusal of tenure to a provisional civil servant stirs much of a political tempest.

But the case of Adar Cohen, who headed the Education Ministry’s Civics Pedagogical Unit, is different.

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Politicians, media headliners and literati pulled out all stops to decry what amounts to his dismissal as mortal blow to Israeli democracy. Numerous op-eds were published, rallies held, picket lines organized and prodigious airtime devoted to Cohen’s job.

The argument was that Cohen is a victim of politicization.

There is no denying that his post-Zionist orientation grates hard against Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s guiding principles. This became blatantly evident when Cohen approved a secondary school civics text book (Setting Off on the Path to Citizenship: Israel – Society, State and its Citizens) rife with inaccuracies and tendentious assertions.

This text tells impressionable youngsters that by its very definition, a Jewish state negates democracy, that Israel’s establishment was injurious to Arab rights, that the Law of Return is questionable, that “Judaism in its original meaning is a religion. The Zionist movement transformed the term ‘Judaism’ into a nation.”

Elsewhere, it contends: “A relationship based on control could harm the freedom and equality of those not belonging to the majority. This is especially true when the majority espouses a selective demographic policy, which entrenches its status over time.”

The book, inter alia, brands Israeli presence beyond the 1949 armistice lines as illegitimate and blames Israel for the absence of peace.

There may be parents who approve that the aforementioned be inculcated into their children. But there are numerous others who most clearly do not. It is not the task of public education to indoctrinate and certainly not to force a radical minority’s agenda upon a majority.

But the issue here transcends even such basic considerations because Cohen’s own appointment was blatantly political. When Labor’s Yuli Tamir was education minister (and sought to introduce the “Nakba” into the school curriculum), she summarily fired Cohen’s predecessor, Esther Brand, whose chief sin was her residence in beyond-the- Green-Line Kedumim.

At the time, in 2007, all those who now vehemently object to discontinuing Cohen’s contract voiced no hint of protest about what was done to the tenured Brand. Tamir contended that her sacking was “thoroughly professional,” even though the courts unambiguously disagreed.

Tamir replaced Brand with Cohen, whose views meshed with hers. Perhaps that was her right. But is it not then likewise Sa’ar’s inherent right to appoint, albeit very belatedly, top-ranking personnel who would further his declared aims rather than hinder them? Surely even Cohen’s staunchest supporters must agree that it is disingenuous to deny Sa’ar what’s permissible for Tamir.

It is high time that trendsetters in our public discourse concede that politicization is in the beholders’ eye. One man’s cronyism is another’s professional choice. Often those who protest loudest against political appointments – and the smut, scandal and sleaze popularly ascribed to them – can hardly claim a spotless record themselves.

Moreover, the people choose representatives, whom they expect to implement those policies that received the voters’ approval in the electoral process. Yet these elected representatives can hardly fulfill their promises if surrounded by executives who espouse opposing opinions.

Like-minded appointees are indispensable, not evidence of corruption.

The experience of this country’s first Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin, amply illustrates this. High-mindedly, he refused to tamper with the civil service he inherited from his Labor predecessors – who themselves openly and unabashedly barred the appointments of Likud members as a matter of declared policy. However, the Laborites he left in such key ministries as the treasury didn’t cooperate with Begin’s government, didn’t support its policies and even sabotaged them.

To demand that such a situation be considered the desired norm is a basic misunderstanding of what democracy is all about. To demand that the government operate with functionaries opposed to its creed assumes that no ideological or other differences exist or should exist among the people’s elected representatives. This further assumes that policy changes should be rendered effectively impossible.

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