Burying our own history and heritage

Jews are called the “people of the book” because they love books in general, especially history books.

Israeli fighters stand guard in 1948 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Israeli fighters stand guard in 1948 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Jews are called the “people of the book” not just because they revere “The Book” – the Bible – but because they love books in general, especially history books.
“Remember the days of old, consider the many years of generations,” Moses commands his people in his farewell address (Deuteronomy: 32:7), but sadly, recent generations of Israel’s Jews have little knowledge of Jewish history and even of modern Israeli history such as the Zionist struggle and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
For many years, I did reserve duty in the IDF Education Branch, lecturing to young soldiers, mostly about historical subjects or about the role of the press in a democratic society. I was always amazed at how many soldiers could not give me a coherent response when I asked basic questions: “When did our conflict with the Arabs begin? Is it an Arab-Israeli conflict or an Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or perhaps does it go back to Isaac and Ishmael? Is it based on territory or on religion or on tribal values or on something else?”
I got some incredible answers over the years, but one appeared over and over again: “The conflict began when we took their land in 1967.” When I asked, in response, “was there not a conflict before 1967?” I caused a lot of confusion.
Fortunately, most soldiers were open-minded enough to be willing to look at the Arab-Israeli conflict and its various developmental stages, but I often felt as if I was trying to do a repair job on some of the basic concepts of history and civics taught to Israel’s students.
When considering the often ignorant state of the Israel’s younger generation, the main fault lies with an older generation that consciously neglected the study of history or handed the history curriculum to educational amateurs or worse, Israel’s enemies.
Then-education minister Yael (Yuli) Tamir, an ex-activist in Peace Now, was infamous for promoting the “Palestinian narrative.”
Other left-wing education ministers like Shulamit Aloni and Yosi Sarid pushed a similar path.
Shortly after the Oslo Accords, then-education minister Aloni said she felt as uplifted by the creation of a PLO state as Herzl must have felt at the Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, 50 years before Israel’s formal birth.
Tamir also said she did not want students who knew dates by heart, who could recite speeches by Zionist leaders or by Israel’s prophets. After all, we do not need history study for that, Tamir said, when students can always consult Google. [Yes, she really said this.] For the Tamir-Aloni-Sarid crowd, it was more important to know that May 14, 1948, was the day of the Nakba –calamity in Arabic – rather than to know by heart a speech by Ben-Gurion, Begin, Herzl, Jabotinsky, Moses or Deborah the Judge.
The current controversy over the employment of Adar Cohen in the Education Ministry is part of this pattern. The matter has been badly politicized by the same Israeli left-wing politicians and journalists who felt the Arab narrative and Google were enough for Israel’s history students and civics classes.
The facts of the case are not in doubt: Cohen oversaw textbooks that were full of errors and pro-Arab tone.
Professionals need to keep to a high standard, and that means removing them from their position when they make major errors.
That is true even of top Israeli leaders, from Moses and King Saul to – and we should pause to separate them – more recent leaders like Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav and Ehud Olmert.
In this case, no one is going to jail or dying on the top of a mountain, nor even being drummed out of the profession, but there is a price for botching a job.
This can also be an important civics lesson to Israeli students: success is rewarded, and failure is punished, even if the Israeli Left throws a tantrum.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster.

He was strategic affairs adviser in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and teaches at Bar- Ilan University.