Battle of the Bible: Knesset members stand divided on origin of the Jews

Sorry for the triviality, but shouldn’t the Education Minister know that according to the Torah, we came here from Egypt?” asked Stav Shafir.

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February 22, 2016 10:52
3 minute read.
Pyramids in Giza

Pyramids in Giza. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement on Monday that next year’s theme for the education system will be a “United Jerusalem” sparked sharp criticism from opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

“I am proud to announce that on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem, next year the school system will dedicate the year to our united capital,” Bennett wrote on Facebook.

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Each year the Education Ministry chooses a theme for the school year. Last year’s theme was “Meaningful Learning” and this year’s theme is “The Other is Me.”

As part of the theme, Bennett announced that pupils will take field trips to the capital and tour numerous sites including the Old City, the Knesset, the High Court and memorial sites.

The program will incorporate curricula on Jerusalem in various subjects including history, language, geography, civics, literature, and Bible and Israel studies.

The academic program will also provide teachers with new lesson plans that will incorporate literature on the city, which Bennett said will “correspond to the spirit of the school and its worldview.”

The program will officially launch with numerous activities and special events on Jerusalem Day in June.



“Our history began in Jerusalem, and from the city we will draw our strength as a nation in these days. If there is anyone who comes to disconnect us from the city – he only achieved the opposite – and connected us even more to Jerusalem,” Bennett said.

Bennett also announced the Education Ministry’s intention to double the number of students participating in the “Masa Israeli” (Israeli Journey) project run in collaboration with the ministry, from 12,000 to 21,000 youth.

As part of the program, 12th grade students spend six days touring the country beginning at first prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s gravesite and ending with a weekend in Jerusalem. The students also volunteer in developing cities, camp outdoors, visit sites and learn about milestones in the forming of the Jewish and Zionist identity.

Bennett’s announcement was slammed by the opposition.

“I heard Education Minister Naftali Bennett this morning, who woke up with a need for a headline and declared a year of unity of Jerusalem. I love Jerusalem. We all love Jerusalem, but wonder which Jerusalem Bennett meant? A Jewish and safe Jerusalem or the Jerusalem with 300,000 Palestinians that we annexed and who hate us. The City of David or Shuafat? Nahlaot or Isawiya?” Herzog said at the opening of the Zionist Union faction meeting on Monday.

He said the majority of citizens want a separation from the Palestinians in order to preserve a Jewish Jerusalem.

“It pains me that we are losing Jerusalem because of unoriginal slogans that Bennett is bound by,” he said. “Whoever loves Jerusalem should demand separation from the Palestinians.”

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) strongly criticized Bennett’s plan for Jerusalem, saying “east Jerusalem is occupied territory, and no other country recognizes its annexation to Israel.”

“Bennett uses the Education Ministry as a tool for brainwashing and a new political socialization based on disregard for the suffering of the Palestinian people and the denial of their narrative,” he said. “Bennett continues to force the education system to the narratives of Bayit Yehudi and its colonial ideology that will ensure the attainment of its political objectives.”

The Arab-Israeli lawmaker pointed out that east Jerusalem Arabs are not part of Bennett’s plan, and that he ignores the existence of another conception to divide Jerusalem as part of the two-state solution.

MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) also responded to Bennett’s announcement with a tweet claiming that Jews had originated from Egypt.

“‘From Jerusalem our history began,’ Bennett this morning. Sorry for the triviality, but shouldn’t the education minister know that according to the Torah, we came here from Egypt,” she tweeted.

Shaffir later removed the tweet and clarified, writing that according to the Torah, “the Jewish people first stood together not in Jerusalem but under Mount Sinai.”

She accused Bennett of twisting the Torah to benefit his political needs.

“Bennett insists since taking on his role in the Education Ministry to push a very specific type of Judaism into the schools of our children and this discourse shows exactly what type it is,” she said. “As a proud secular Zionist Jew, I do not feel the need to receive lessons in ancient Israel from Bennett.”

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, from Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party, responded to Shaffir’s first tweet and said: “Stav, sorry for the triviality but have you heard of the Sacrifice of Isaac for instance? It was a little before the exodus from Egypt.”


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