Burying our own history and heritage
Jews are called the “people of the book” because they love books in general, especially history books.
Israeli fighters stand guard in 1948 Photo: Reuters
Jews are called the “people of the book” not just because they revere “The Book”
– the Bible – but because they love books in general, especially history
“Remember the days of old, consider the many years of
generations,” Moses commands his people in his farewell address (Deuteronomy:
32:7), but sadly, recent generations of Israel’s Jews have little knowledge of
Jewish history and even of modern Israeli history such as the Zionist struggle
and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
For many years, I did reserve duty in the
IDF Education Branch, lecturing to young soldiers, mostly about historical
subjects or about the role of the press in a democratic society. I was always
amazed at how many soldiers could not give me a coherent response when I asked
basic questions: “When did our conflict with the Arabs begin? Is it an
Arab-Israeli conflict or an Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or perhaps does it go
back to Isaac and Ishmael? Is it based on territory or on religion or on tribal
values or on something else?”
I got some incredible answers over the years, but
one appeared over and over again: “The conflict began when we took their land in
1967.” When I asked, in response, “was there not a conflict before 1967?” I
caused a lot of confusion.
Fortunately, most soldiers were open-minded
enough to be willing to look at the Arab-Israeli conflict and its various
developmental stages, but I often felt as if I was trying to do a repair job on
some of the basic concepts of history and civics taught to Israel’s
When considering the often ignorant state of the Israel’s
younger generation, the main fault lies with an older generation that
consciously neglected the study of history or handed the history curriculum to
educational amateurs or worse, Israel’s enemies.
Yael (Yuli) Tamir, an ex-activist in Peace Now, was infamous for promoting the
Other left-wing education ministers like
Shulamit Aloni and Yosi Sarid pushed a similar path.
Shortly after the
Oslo Accords, then-education minister Aloni said she felt as uplifted by the
creation of a PLO state as Herzl must have felt at the Zionist Congress in
Basel, Switzerland, 50 years before Israel’s formal birth.
said she did not want students who knew dates by heart, who could recite
speeches by Zionist leaders or by Israel’s prophets. After all, we do not need
history study for that, Tamir said, when students can always consult Google.
[Yes, she really said this.] For the Tamir-Aloni-Sarid crowd, it was more
important to know that May 14, 1948, was the day of the Nakba –calamity in
Arabic – rather than to know by heart a speech by Ben-Gurion, Begin, Herzl,
Jabotinsky, Moses or Deborah the Judge.
The current controversy over the
employment of Adar Cohen in the Education Ministry is part of this pattern. The
matter has been badly politicized by the same Israeli left-wing politicians and
journalists who felt the Arab narrative and Google were enough for Israel’s
history students and civics classes.
The facts of the case are not in
doubt: Cohen oversaw textbooks that were full of errors and pro-Arab
Professionals need to keep to a high standard, and that means
removing them from their position when they make major errors.
true even of top Israeli leaders, from Moses and King Saul to – and we should
pause to separate them – more recent leaders like Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav and
In this case, no one is going to jail or dying on the top of
a mountain, nor even being drummed out of the profession, but there is a price
for botching a job.
This can also be an important civics lesson to
Israeli students: success is rewarded, and failure is punished, even if the
Israeli Left throws a tantrum.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab
politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western
Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and
He was strategic affairs adviser in Israel’s Ministry of Public
Security and teaches at Bar- Ilan University.