Our World: Netanyahu’s post-Zionist Education Ministry

In hiding the controversy surrounding the ‘constitutional revolution,’ the textbook denies students the ability to understand current events.

Steinitz (L), Netanyahu, Sa'ar at edu. press conference_311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Steinitz (L), Netanyahu, Sa'ar at edu. press conference_311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
One of the declared goals of the Netanyahu government is to ensure that Israeli schoolchildren receive a strong Zionist education. To this end, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed Gideon Sa’ar as his education minister.
Sa’ar has long distinguished himself as a critic of post-Zionist initiatives to transform Israel’s educational curriculum from a Zionist curriculum which in accordance with the Education Law of 1953 is charged with inculcating school children with “the values of Jewish culture,” “love of the homeland,” and “loyalty to the Jewish state,” into one that indoctrinates Israel’s youth to adopt a post-nationalist, universalist perspective that does not value Jewish nationalism and rejects patriotism as atavistic and even racist.
In light of the importance that the government has placed on Zionist education, it is quite shocking that under Sa’ar, the Education Ministry approved a new citizenship textbook for high school students that embraces the post- Zionist narrative.
This fall, the new textbook, Setting off on the path to citizenship: Israel – society, state and its citizens (Yotzim l’derech ezrachit: Yisrael – hevra, medina v’ezracheya) was introduced into the state’s official citizenship curriculum. In everything from its discussion of the War of Independence to globalization and transnational institutions, to Israeli politics, to the peace process, to Israel’s constitutional debate, to Operation Cast Lead, the textbook adopts positions that are post-Zionist and even anti-Zionist. It champions these positions while denying students the basic facts necessary to make informed decisions on how they relate to their country, their people and their rights and duties as citizens.
In a letter to Sa’ar written on October 4, 2011, Bar-Ilan University law professor Gideon Sapir set out four ways the textbook distorts history and reality. First, in its discussion of the historical background of Israel’s founding, the book gives only passing mention to the international legal foundation of the state – the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine from 1922. The Mandate called for the reconstitution of the Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel. It granted sovereignty to the Jewish state over all the territory that today makes up Israel, Judea, Samaria and Jordan.
The textbook provides no map of the Mandate.
Instead it suffices with a map of the UN’s 1947 partition plan, a map of the territory controlled by the Jewish forces before the establishment of the state, and a map of the 1949 armistice lines.
Sapir explained, “In the absence of the map of the Mandate, the ’49 map, (i.e. “1967 borders”), is presented as Israel’s maximal legitimate borders, (with the alternative borders being the partition map.”
Second, Sapir noted that the book’s explanation of Israel’s constitutional foundations present the so-called “constitutional revolution” of the 1990s as utterly uncontroversial. Through the “constitutional revolution,” the Supreme Court effectively seized the Knesset’s legislative powers. And as Sapir notes, it justified the move through a distorted interpretation of laws “reading into them rights that were specifically removed from them by the Knesset.”
In hiding the controversy surrounding the “constitutional revolution,” the textbook denies students the ability to understand current events. Without awareness of the controversy, students emerge from high school with no ability to understand the current fight between the court and the Knesset regarding the separation of powers.
As Sapir notes, the textbook demonizes the political Right generally and in Israel in particular.
While just last month Labor politicians and leftist commentators called for the government to deny due process rights to right-wing protesters, Setting off on the path to citizenship presents political violence as the sole province of the political Right. So, too, while the book claims the Left has a monopoly on human rights, it tells students that “nationalistic chauvinism is identified with the rightist character.”
After being told such a thing, how can a good, enlightened high school student wish to be identified with the largest political camp in Israel? Indeed, how can he accept that such a political camp has a right to participate in Israeli “democracy”? Finally, Prof. Sapir mentions that the chapter on the peace process between Israel and its neighbors blames Israel for the absence of peace.
The chapter begins a discussion of prospects for peace after the 1967 Six Day War. In so doing, it places the responsibility for the absence of peace on Israel which, it claims, blocks peace by refusing to give Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians and the Golan Heights to Syria. The book paints sympathetic portraits of the Syrian regime, ignores then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer to relinquish the Golan Heights for peace, and makes no mention of repeated statements by Arab leaders calling for the destruction of Israel and denying Israel’s right to exist.
Aside from the points raised by Prof. Sapir, the book also criticizes Israel for not fully embracing the post-nationalist world order represented by the UN. It criticizes Israel for rejecting the legitimacy of the International Court of Justice’s nonbinding legal opinion from 2004 regarding the security barrier. At the same time, it makes no mention of the fact that the ICJ’s opinion denied Israel’s right to self-defense and that the judges themselves included outspoken haters of Israel.
So, too, in attacking Israel for not embracing the UN as the arbiter of issues of war and peace, by among other things, refusing to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission after Operation Cast Lead, the textbook makes no mention of the UN’s anti-Israel agenda which it advances through every organ of the institution. High school students who study from this textbook are not told about the UN’s diplomatic orgy of anti-Semitism at Durban in 2001 in which Israel was singled out as the most racist, illegitimate evil state on the planet. They are not told of the UN General Assembly’s insidious 1975 resolution defining Zionism – the Jewish national liberation movement – as a form of racism.
All of this actually makes sense. Because the textbook itself claims that the Jewish people are a religious group, not a nation. In a teaching note, the textbook recommends “explaining to the students that Judaism in its original meaning is a religion. The Zionist movement transformed the term, ‘Judaism,’ into a nation.”
This shocking assertion, which channels the PLO’s genocidal, anti-Semitic charter while ignoring 3,500 years of Jewish history, is par for the course for the textbook introduced into Israel’s high schools under the Netanyahu government.
The question of how this book was approved was the subject of an in-depth investigative report written by Gil Bringer and published in Makor Rishon on December 9, 2011. In a nutshell, the story is yet another chapter in the well-known tale in which leftist politicians working hand in glove with leftist academics and leftist media, install leftist political activists in permanent, “professional” positions within the state bureaucracy in order to enable their radical policies to outlive their time in office.
Like all other curricula, the citizenship curriculum is approved by an Education Ministry bureaucrat. In 2007, then-education minister Yuli Tamir’s childhood friend and number 3 Anat Zohar, who headed the ministry’s Pedagogical Secretariat, fired Esther Brand, who was in charge of the citizenship curriculum.
Brand, a religious woman and a resident of Samaria, was perceived as not being part of Tamir’s political camp. Brand challenged her firing in labor court. Rather than defend the move, the ministry offered her an unheard of settlement of NIS 100,000 to walk. She walked.
Brand was replaced by Zohar’s personal assistant, a man in his early-30s named Adar Cohen.
Cohen is an alumnus of the leftist Israel Democracy Institute, which has for years labored to introduce post-Zionist themes into Israel’s education system. As the Makor Rishon report documented, Cohen served as an adviser to the authors of Setting off on the path to citizenship.
While the book was being written, for over a year Cohen delayed granting approval to a competing textbook written by Hebrew University’s political science professor Abraham Diskin that has a Zionist orientation. In the end, Cohen approved both books on the same day last August.
According to the Makor Rishon report, which I separately authenticated with Education Ministry officials directly involved in the issue, Cohen has used his power to distort the proceedings of the professional committee of academics appointed to advise him in his work. He has sought to delay convening the committee in an apparent bid to minimize professional oversight of his decision making. And he used his bureaucratic power to prevent other Education Ministry officials from endorsing Diskin’s book.
After coming into office, Sa’ar appointed Zvi Zameret to serve as chairman of the Pedagogical Secretariat – the same position that Zohar held under Tamir. As the Makor Rishon report explained, Zameret requested that Cohen convene the professional committee last June to approve a new, more Zionist curriculum whose composition Zameret had overseen.
Cohen informed Zameret that the committee members couldn’t make it on the date Zameret had suggested. Upon review it worked out that no one had voiced any objection to the proposed date and so the meeting was convened despite Cohen’s effort to block it.
According to ministry procedures, the professional committee’s approval of the curriculum is supposed to precede the approval of new textbooks.
As Sapir noted in his letter to Sa’ar, the new post-Zionist textbook that Cohen supports contradicts the new curriculum.
Ministry officials who spoke with Makor Rishon hypothesized that Cohen may have wished to postpone the meeting until after Zameret left his position at the beginning of November. Sa’ar has yet to appoint his replacement.
Ministry’s director-general Dalit Shtauber publicly backed Cohen after the Makor Rishon report was published. Attacking the ministry officials who spoke to the paper off record, Shtauber claimed that their off-record comments were anti-democratic. Notably, Shtauber’s defense of Cohen ignored the post-Zionist content of the textbook he approved.
Following the Makor Rishon report, coalition chairman MK Ze’ev Elkin called for an urgent hearing on the textbook in the Knesset’s Education Committee. The hearing, which was scheduled to take place on January 4, was canceled.
Ministry officials claim that the Sa’ar asked committee chairman MK Alex Miller to cancel the meeting and claimed he was handling the issue within the ministry.
If Cohen continues to serve in his position through the end of the year, he will be eligible for – and all but automatically receive – tenure.
Cohen is only in his early 30s. If he is granted tenure, he will be able to continue to control the content of the citizenship curriculum for Israel’s school children for the next 30 years.