Critics say new Israeli civics textbook whitewashes and distorts reality

Due to the severe backlash, the textbook was revised and several of the problematic segments were removed.

An Israeli soldier holds a flag next to the grave of a fallen soldier during a ceremony ahead of Memorial Day (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli soldier holds a flag next to the grave of a fallen soldier during a ceremony ahead of Memorial Day
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After five years in the works, the Education Ministry released its new high school civics textbook To Be Israeli Citizens on Monday.
The new 514-page textbook, which is set to replace the current version published in 2000, has been at the center of controversy since even before its release over what content to include in a civics book geared towards students in the state and state-religious school system.
Earlier this year, the book’s language editor, Yehuda Yaari penned a letter to the ministry, which was leaked to the media, noting several objections to the text.
Among the divisive excerpts included quotations implicating Arab Israelis in attacks in the wave of terrorism, and citations that it was never proven that the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was due to incitement.
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.
Due to the severe backlash, the textbook was revised and several of the problematic segments were removed; for example, the 2015 wave of terrorism was entirely omitted from the book.
The final version of the textbook includes four sections covering: What is a Jewish State?; What is a Democratic State?; Government and Politics in Israel; and Society and Politics in Israel.
Spanning 38 chapters, the book begins with the Declaration of Independence and touches upon the historic right to a state, the identity and makeup of Israel’s citizens, and ends with a chapter on the different views on the desired character of the State of Israel.
Critics of the book have charged that it does not adequately address shared citizenship in a Jewish and democratic state, downplaying key issues such as the divide between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews and providing minimal coverage of Arab Israelis, but rather places an emphasis on Jewish nationalism above all, including “God’s promise” to the Jewish people as a justification for the establishment of the State.
Prof. Yossi Dahan, chair of the board of directors of the Adva Center, which provides information on equality and social justice in Israel said from his initial perusal of the book, it offered an unrealistic picture of Israeli society.
He wrote in a Facebook post: “The impression is that one of the goals of the book is to convince students of the existence of a parallel world to the world in which they live, an Israeli reality that almost perfectly fulfilled the vision of the Declaration of Independence.”
In the parallel world that the book creates, aside from three negligible lines on the ‘ethnic divide’ there are no Mizrachi or Ashkenazi [Jews] in Israel, no developing cities, no impoverished neighborhoods and no history of conflict over lands, resources or opportunities. For the writers of the book ‘we are all Jewish so why the conflict’,” he wrote.
Left wing MKs Zehava Galon and Dov Henin also criticized the book shortly after its release and also accused the writers and Education Minister Naftali Bennett of re-writing reality and omitting important aspects and sectors of Israeli society.
The Civics Teachers Council issued a statement criticizing the fact that the ministry withheld the book from them until the “last minute,” though it said it would nevertheless refrain from providing any commentary or criticism of the book within the first 24 hours of its release citing that it was devoted to pedagogy and would need much more time to thoroughly read the entire text.
The Education Ministry released a statement saying, “The book is designed to foster among students an attitude of respect and commitment toward human rights in Israel, toward democratic principles and values and toward the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state.”
“In addition, it is designed to strengthen the common denominator for all the students in the school system, who will be the future adult citizens of the State, and give them the tools that will assist each and every one of them in developing a personal stand as to the vision of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” the ministry said.