As 1.48 million first through 12th graders return to school today, it’s an
opportune time to applaud Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s educational projects
aimed at strengthening Jewish and Zionist values.
In statements ahead of
the new school year, Sa’ar has promised to double the number of students who
visit Jerusalem – including the City of David – within the framework of
school-sponsored field trips. He has called to encourage IDF enlistment by
inviting 350 IDF officers to come to high schools to speak with students ahead
of their draft and by ranking high schools in accordance with draft
And he is also launching a new program under the guidance of Prof.
Binyamin Ish-Shalom called “Israel’s Culture and Tradition” – Tarbut Vemoreshet
Israel – that will boost the amount of time devoted to the study of Jewish
Sa’ar has come under fire from some quarters, however, in
particular for his recent decision, backed by Dr. Zvi Zameret, Chairman of the
Pedagogical Secretariat, to erase from state-school history books the Arabs’
“Nakba narrative,” which sees the creation of the State of Israel as a
“disaster.” His opponents have argued that the minister is attempting to
indoctrinate school children, to deny them the chance to examine the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an open, critical way.
From a historical
perspective it is certainly important for our high school students to be taught
that many, if not most, Arab Israelis see the creation of the Jewish state as a
disaster, if only to contextualize their violent refusal, just a few years after
the Holocaust, to recognize the Jewish peoples’ right to selfdetermination
alongside a Palestinian state as advocated by the UN’s November 29, 1947
But however the “Nakba” is included in our students’
history books, Sa’ar’s main point holds true: By no means should we expect
students enrolled in schools funded by the world’s only Jewish democracy to view
the Palestinian or Arab-Israeli narrative of victimization as equally legitimate
for the sake of “intellectual openness” – a euphemism for moral
THE MAIN problem with Sa’ar's educational program is that it
reaches too few students. In 2009, only 44 percent of 1.46 million Israeli
school children and teenagers were enrolled in secular state schools, while
another 15% were enrolled in religious state schools. All the rest went to
haredi (15%) or Arab (25%) schools. By 2014, according to Central Bureau of
Statistics figures, just 54% of 1.56 million students will study at state (40%)
or religious state (14%) schools. The rest (47%) will be enrolled at haredi
(18%) or Arab (29%) schools.
The impact of this shift on social cohesion
An increasingly large proportion of students studying in
schools funded in full or in part by the State of Israel are receiving an
education that is either indifferent or hostile to the Zionist
It is unrealistic to expect Arab schools, even those funded
by the state, to teach a strongly pro-Zionist historical narrative, though they
should be expected to educate their students to recognize and respect Israel as
the sovereign state of the Jewish people.
A first step toward fostering a
more positive Arab approach to the state would be to eliminate
Average class size is consistently bigger in Arab
than in Jewish schools – 30 to 31 children per class in Arab elementary
compared to 26 in state schools. And disadvantaged Arab students in
schools receive about 30% fewer teaching hours per student than their
A still bigger challenge, however, is the haredi
system. There is no reason why these schools, which receive state funds
licensing, should be exempt from educating their students to be
citizens of the Jewish state, or from providing them with the basic
needed in the modern workplace. If haredi schools refuse to provide that
education, they should not be entitled to state funding.
demographic changes in Israeli society endanger cultural cohesion. Wise
educational policy, like that now being presented by Sa’ar, can help
threat, but only if his educational messages can be extended to the
growing haredi and Arab sectors.
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