(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Education Ministry’s new civics textbook, To Be Israeli Citizens, was at the center of controversy on Tuesday, despite the fact it has yet to be released.
According to numerous critics, the high school textbook, which is set to replace the current version published in 2000, does not address shared citizenship in a Jewish and democratic state but rather places an emphasis on Jewish nationalism above all.
A Channel 2 report on Monday revealed several controversial excerpts from the textbook, taken from a letter, penned earlier this month by the book’s language editor, Yehuda Yaari, to officials in the Education Ministry, noting several objections to the text.
Among the divisive excerpts included quotations implicating Arab-Israelis in attacks in the current wave of terrorism and citations that it was never proven that the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was due to incitement.
“The attorney-general, Meni Mazuz, said that it has not been proven that the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was the result of incitement... the only clear aspect is that the murder was the result of a security failure,” the book stated.
Regarding Arab Israelis, another excerpt revealed: “In the fall of 2015 a series of stabbing attacks were carried out throughout the country. Most of them were committed by Arab citizens of Israel.”
The book also compared between the sinking of the Altalena ship in 1948, the murder of left-wing activist Emil Grunzweig at a Peace Now rally and the murder of Rabin, blurring the lines between murder for political- ideological reasons and orders given by a government head.
The report also stated that the chapter on human dignity included dozens of quotations from Jewish sources, without including citations from secular thinkers, philosophers, poets, or writers – a reversal of the previous version of the textbook.
“Whoever tries to ignore the role of incitement on the eve of the Rabin assassination is distorting history and teaches an incorrect and biased historical narrative that part of its role is to serve the current government of which some of the people were party to the incitement before Rabin’s assassination,” former education minister Yuli Tamir told Channel 2.
Prof. Tamar Herman, an expert in political science told the network that she was tasked with reviewing the book and said: “the book is biased, professionally incorrect, basic concepts are not true, it was clumsy and it was bad.”
She said she issued a number of revisions though had yet to receive an updated copy with her inclusions.
“I just received the [new] document and my heart ached. From the quotations I saw, it seems that it is even worse,” she said.
The Education Ministry released a statement in response: “The quotations presented are tendentious and selective, and absolutely do not reflect the spirit of the book. The quotes are unreliable. They are sections of a draft that is not updated, and not from the latest version.”
“When the ministry will publish the book in its full capacity, it will make it available to the public in order to allow a real and appropriate public debate,” the ministry stated.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett responded to the controversy, singling out Channel 2 and Haaretz and said in a tweet referring to the quote regarding Israeli- Arabs: “It seemed strange to me. I asked them to check. There is no quote like this in the book. At all. Listen, this is [sub-par] journalism.”
On Tuesday, Arab-Israeli MKs and groups criticized the ministry and called on Bennett to issue a thorough review of the matter.
“The new civics book is a school of nationalism in the form of [Bayit Yehudi’s] Bennett and [Ayelet] Shaked, who see democratic values as a threat and are hostile to them. The book is a continuation of a campaign of incitement that this government is undertaking against Arab citizens, and it is a mix of lies, inflexibility and hatred,” said Joint List head MK Ayman Odeh.
The Abraham Fund also released a statement: “The false allegation that Arab-Israeli citizens are responsible for the majority of terror activities in the fall of 2015 is on the fence of dangerous incitement and the education minister must check if this allegation was included in the civics book deliberately and must address the issue very seriously.”