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(photo credit: Ori Porat [file])
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) has put on hold a government plan aimed at fostering coexistence and tolerance between Jewish and Arab children, so he can further examine the issue.
A few days before assuming his post on March 31, Sa'ar asked then-education minister Yuli Tamir (Labor) not to appoint a team that was to be tasked with helping implement 10 recommendations made by a public committee to promote a "shared life" between Jews and Arabs, a ministry spokeswoman said.
Sa'ar "requested from the former education minister, a few days before the new government was sworn in, to avoid engaging in underhanded opportunism," the spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post.
"If you appoint... the application team a few days before she leaves office, it's like trying to... create facts for the new minister."
Sa'ar does not know yet know how he wants to address the plan and needs "a grace period" to study the issue, she said on Thursday.
"He wants to read the report, study it, question the professional officials in the office and then decide what to do," the ministry spokeswoman said. "It will take a while."
Tamir appointed the committee in August. The committee recommended that "shared life" should be a mandatory subject in school and that it should be taught continuously from kindergarten through 12th grade.
It also recommended that Jewish-Arab encounters be part of the curriculum and that Jewish pupils should learn Arabic culture and language.
In addition, the committee proposed that the Education Ministry oversee implementation of policies promoting coexistence, tolerance and peaceful relations.
MK Tamir said on Sunday it would be fine to delay appointing the implementation team if it was only for a brief examination.
However, "I suspect that behind this demand, there is a more profound decision not to continue with these kinds of projects. I think there is a decision not to deal with issues related to coexistence between Jews and Arabs," she said.
Tamir said she feared that the new government was not committed to coexistence - "very much in the spirit of [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman."
Gabi Salomon, co-chairman of the public committee that made the recommendations, said it was important to implement the plan to improve the deteriorating relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
"We have enough examples where racism raises its head. The school system might be one effective way to curb it, to reverse the trend, to learn who the other side is and to learn to respect them," said Salomon, a winner of the Israel Prize in Education.
Arabs in Israel "have a collective narrative, a story of their own. It's not only the Zionist narrative that exists in this country... You don't have to agree with every word of it, but you have to respect it," he said.
Yousef Jabareen, the director of the Nazareth-based Dirasat: The Arab Center for Law and Policy, said he urged the new education minister to implement the plan "without any further delay."
A recent University of Haifa survey found that three of four Jewish pupils viewed Arabs as ignorant, uncivilized and dirty, Jabareen said.
"This result should shake the education system in Israel and lead it to systematically enhance education [for] shared life, emphasizing values of equal rights and equal citizenship and mutual respect," he said.
However, critics of the educational plan - whose details were recently leaked to a local television station - say it is "anti-Zionist," written by left-wingers and thus unworthy of being implemented, Salomon said.
A spokesman for Avishay Braverman (Labor), the new minister of minority affairs, told the Post on Sunday that Braverman, in general, welcomed projects promoting coexistence, but he had not yet familiarized himself with this particular plan, nor was he aware of Sa'ar's decision to put it on hold.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in his first address in his new post, said last month that he was committed to "the promise of complete equality" for all and told Arab Israelis that "you will find me a loyal partner" in your integration into society and the economy.