Last update - 03:28 30/04/2009
The minister gives a civics lesson
By Israel Harel
Gideon Sa'ar has announced he will be teaching at a different school every week. He is implying that an education minister's job is not just to address teachers' benefits, a major issue in itself. His chosen subject - civics- will let him mold the national and civic identity of tomorrow's citizens.
Almost all high-school subjects are taught pluralistically, except the one the minister has chosen to teach. His ministry's curriculum department does not entrust anyone "who isn't one of us" to indoctrinate Israeli pupils.
The official civics textbook "To Be Citizens in Israel," edited by ministry officials, is intended for all pupils, Jewish and Arab, religious and secular. This is the textbook Sa'ar will use.
When he prepares the lessons, he will find the book stresses mainly individualist, liberal values, while minimizing national collective ones. Especially subversive is the chapter on the conflict between Arabs and Jews. This is the only chapter written by someone outside of the Education Ministry.
The only man in Israel deemed worthy of writing it is Dr. As'ad Ghanem, who by chance or not, was also the main drafter of a document entitled "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel." This document includes these civic pearls: "Israel is the outcome of a colonialist action which was initiated by the Jewish-Zionist elites ... [it] was established by colonial states ... it continues conflicting with its neighbors incessantly ... and implementing a colonialist policy ... Israel cannot be defined as a democratic state. It can be defined as an ethnocratic state ... the state must acknowledge responsibility for the Nakba ... [it] should recognize the Palestinian Arabs as an indigenous national group that has a right to choose its representatives directly." It also says that each side should run its own affairs and have a right to veto the other's decisions.
Ghanem advances these opinions, although less blatantly, in the civics textbook as well. In the part about the War of Independence he ignores the bloody Arab attacks before the war, including their refusal to accept the UN Partition Plan and the war they began a few hours after Israel's Declaration of Independence. Everything that happened in those days is "an accelerated conflict between Jews and Arabs ... which became more violent." The Jews, and only the Jews, are to blame for causing the refugee problem.
Those setting the Israeli citizenship curriculum have found these statements worthy of appearing in the Education Ministry's official book, without contrasting opinions. And the civics teachers in the ethnocratic, colonialist state - whose Arab citizens yesterday marked the 61st anniversary of the Nakba, the disaster of Israel's establishment - are obliged to teach them.
Even teachers outraged by this material must teach it. The civics matriculation exams are based on this book. What teacher would want to fail his students?
Professor Orit Ichilov of Tel Aviv University, who studies civic education in Israel, writes in one of her essays:
"While [teachers in] Western democracies advocate joint commitment to the nation, state and democracy, whenever the two conflict, Israel prefers universal democratic values to Jewish Zionist ones. This is unparalleled in any Western democracy today, where civics education includes democratic, humanist values as well as patriotism and pride in the national historical heritage."