Expunging myths from our educational curriculum

To allow today’s myths to place tomorrow’s Israel in an ideological bind from which it can not free itself must be avoided.

Bibi netanyahu (photo credit: JPost Staff)
Bibi netanyahu
(photo credit: JPost Staff)
George Orwell once wrote: “Myths which are believed in tend to become true.” Unfortunately, this appears to characterize the intentions of those targeting the recent redress of Israel’s educational system, and specifically its civic studies.
For many years, the Left in Israel made a point of controlling the education portfolio and inculcated our youth with extreme-Left and post-Zionist ideals through a creeping ideological annexation of the national curriculum.
Nothing underscored the blurring of the Zionist lines more than the debate two years ago over the proposed amendment to the Oath of Allegiance for prospective new immigrants: adding the simple words “Jewish and democratic.”
The realization of how polarized and popular the post-Zionist discourse had become shocked many Zionists to the core. The venom and opprobrium directed at the amendment, setting out a classical Zionist position, proves that this discourse had permeated the mainstream.
Much of this is a direct result of the classical Zionist positions being undermined in our educational systems for years by education ministers such as Yossi Sarid, Shulamit Aloni and more recently Yuli Tamir.
Now that a nationalist point of view is returning to the curriculum, some on the opposite side of the political spectrum understand that their viewpoints will be tested by critical debate. This is creating intense sensitivity on the Left and leading to all manner of epithets being thrown at those who are leading the return to a balanced curriculum.
For too long decisions have been made that far exceeded the parameters of acceptable discourse in Israel, which saw little redress, and in some departments of the Education Ministry there was there was a growing a sense of impunity with regard to the leaving of rather large ideological footprints on our children’s educational material.
Only a few days ago, Adar Cohen, who headed the Education Ministry’s Civics Pedagogical Unit, did not have his tenure renewed. The refusal to renew Cohen’s tenure was well considered and brave.
Well considered because Cohen had allowed his firm ideological positions to interfere with his sensitive position, which basically dictates which textbooks our children will be reading.
Cohen allowed the secondary school civics textbook Setting Off on the Path to Citizenship: Israel – Society, State and its Citizens, to pass through his office even though it is replete with inaccuracies and attacks the constitutional value of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Any employee in any other profession would have their contract immediately and permanently rescinded if they allowed something to pass through their office which was so inaccurate and diametrically opposed by their employers, who in this case are the citizens of Israel.
Brave, because it stood in the face of the shrill, concerted efforts by Cohen’s fellow ideologues, who mounted a campaign to besmirch anyone who had the temerity to criticize the crass politicization of our educational system.
Up until a month ago, as chairman of the Education Committee in the Knesset, I was lambasted for daring to question the legitimacy of including educational texts that refer to the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel as a catastrophe.
It is unconscionable that any democratic country would advocate a version of history that stands in abject contrast to its national narrative. Just over a decade ago, then-education minister Yossi Sarid proposed that the works of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish be incorporated into our literature curriculum.
Darwish, a former member of the PLO who resigned his position after the Oslo Accords, it should be remembered, was accused by former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir of calling on Jews to leave Israel in his poem Passers Between the Passing Words with the words “So leave our land/Our shore, our sea/Our wheat, our salt, our wound.”
However, more problematic for our purveyors of pure thought and “freedom of speech” was the lack of outrage when, during her tenure as education minister before Gidon Sa’ar, Yuli Tamir expunged the teachings of Zeev Jabotinsky from educational curricula.
It was obviously considered acceptable to those who now complain about ideological interference that important figures from the Right were not able to corrupt the myths that were being created in the educational system.
Where were the voices raised in protest then? It is abundantly clear from these and many more examples that it is not freedom of thought and speech, and ideological balance, that worry those whose hackles have been raised by Cohen’s departure and other recent developments.
It is obviously the idea that other concepts also should be heard, read and learned by this country’s youth.
The adage in politics that “the Left rules even when the Right is elected” is finally, after decades, being broken, thanks in large part to Yisrael Beytenu’s commitment to core values of Zionism.
Yisrael Beytenu’s platform has brought Israel into line with many democracies around the world in its commitment to the allegiance of its citizens and their commitment to society.
The tyranny of the minority is ending and the national narrative of the majority is returning to its place, as befits a democracy.
To teach our youth that their nation was “born in sin” and that our national character is incorrect and immoral is no longer acceptable. We must allow our children to hear many differing points of view, but as in all things, there have to be clear and well-defined boundaries.
To allow today’s myths to place tomorrow’s Israel in an ideological bind from which it can not free itself must be avoided for the sake of our nation.
Our educational system has long been an obvious target for those who wish to move beyond Zionism and build Israel anew with a different mission and foundation. Clearly and far too obviously, this is what the current battle is over, and not the reasons raised incessantly by our former ideological guardians on the Left.
These myths should be set aside before they become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The writer is a Member of Knesset for Yisrael Beytenu and was chairman of the Knesset Education Committee from May 2010 until June 2012.