The revolt of the nation

Israel must undergo some serious change if we do not want to watch society decay. It must start with education.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks in front of a poster of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin upon his arrival at the Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks in front of a poster of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin upon his arrival at the Likud party meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In his book The Revolt , Menachem Begin wrote a chapter called “Civil War? Never.” After the horrors we endured last Thursday, it would be easy to say “never say never.” But I prefer the common adage “better late than never.” Israel must undergo some serious change if we do not want to watch society decay. It must start with education. School is the key for the construction and the consolidation of a nation of citizens with a shared purpose. Israel must reform its fragmented school system. Let us call our on leaders to urgently institute such an overhaul.
In a year, we have witnessed the murder of a young Muslim (Muhammad Abu Khdeir); the torching or vandalization of dozens of mosques, churches and Conservative and Reform synagogues; a Jewish-Arab school (“Hand-in-Hand”) burned in Jerusalem; attacks against Druse; six people stabbed at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade and the resulting death of one of the participants (Shira Banki); and an attack that burned alive a Palestinian baby and caused severe burns to his parents and brother. All of them were committed by fanatic Jews in the name of Judaism, and are the result of a growing Jewish fundamentalism to which the vast majority of Jews are complete aliens. Israeli citizens feel concerned by this fundamentalism and it would be criminal not to speak out and not to propose some plans of action for a durable change.
In the above-mentioned chapter, Begin explained that the revolt could have burst into a civil war, since it was against the instructions of the Zionist apparatus. The British foresaw that after they had left, there would be a war between Jews and Arabs and a civil war among the Jews. Begin said that they were wrong about what he named “the catastrophe of the civil war,” mainly because his organization, the Irgun, did not teach its fighters to hate their political adversaries. He added that a dissent is possible without a revolution, but that a revolution is impossible without dissent. In essence, he argued that dissent and revolution are one, as are revolution and progress.
Begin clarifies that after ridding Israel of British domination, the Irgun was willing to have the mainstream Zionism of Ben-Gurion rule the country, because the idea of liberty was far superior to the idea of power in the Irgun fighters’ heart. The sacrifice was not for individuals, it was for the establishment of the Jewish state, and for transforming our people into a nation.
What we observe today is that some among those aligning themselves with Begin are acting in contradiction to the principles that he stood for. They are fighting for themselves, unlawfully, committing terrorist attacks and putting the whole Israeli nation in danger for their own interests.
Who is to blame? Israel’s education system. This system is as split up as the society. Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, secular Jews and their subgroups, as well as other minorities, notably Arabs and their subgroups, rarely study together. Each sector of the population has its own schools with its own curriculum and values taught, with few exceptions. There is no common curriculum nor are there common values taught to children in Israel, let alone any shared classes where these budding citizens would learn how to be responsible for their nation and how to ask questions regarding building a future together.
It is not a question of making the system uniform. However, next to specific religious and language classes made available upon request, all the children of Israel should have access to an equal and high-quality education system with a common core curriculum, without exceptions. By studying the same fundamental subjects, and even by studying them together, in classes mingling pupils from all of society, children will not only benefit from greater academic achievement but will learn respect for the other.
It can start modestly, by organizing one class mixing pupils from different schools for a “civic education” course once per month, where they would learn with and about one another. This idea breaks with the established system that tolerates this dictatorship of the minorities. To be sure, to adopt such measures is a challenge that will face strong opposition and will require the courage to put one’s self-interests behind the nation’s interests. But this is the only way to create the indispensable societal “revolution” in order to attain progress.
In addition to these pro-active steps, assuming that hate against our minorities and against homosexuals are not our values, since our vivid democracy is in accordance with Western values of human rights, the state must exact swift justice upon the perpetrators of the latest terrorist attacks committed by Jews, and quickly take measures to stop the ideological hemorrhage. The state must shoulder its responsibilities by ceasing to fund institutions, organizations and individuals which will not abide by its democratic principles. The separation between what is tolerated as free speech and what is abhorred and punished as hate speech should be firmly emphasized. Hate instruction must be banned from all schools and yeshivot. This is the role of inspectors of education and of a shared school curriculum.
A reform, no, a revolution, must be undertaken by the state regarding our education system. As Begin phrased it, revolution is tied to dissent, and also to progress. Such progress must be realized, whether the most conservative inside the state apparatus want it or not. If not, we will fall into a civil war. Begin affirmed that the biggest threat for the future of our people would be an internal conflict.
Better late than never. Better to revolutionize our system now and avoid a bloody revolution later. 67 years after the success of the establishment of the State of Israel, it is time to start working toward the consolidation of its nation. Only the sane revolt of the nation and its representatives can trigger deep reform of the school system that will eventually offer our children the possibility to be not just inhabitants of this state but rather citizens, with the rights, duties and common values that citizenship obliges. A common curriculum and a shared education system are the essential elements to fully achieve the Zionist goal.
The author holds a law degree from La Sorbonne and studies the Middle East at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has worked in Israeli and European diplomacy and politics.