Israel bans a textbook promoting Arab rights as ´unbalanced´ (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Ben Lynfield JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 04/23/12)
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Israel´s Education Ministry approved the textbook, ´Taking the Civil
Road,´ just last year but now says it has factual errors. Critics see
the ban as part of a broader nationalistic push.
The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has
banned a high school civics textbook as "unbalanced," a move critics
say is part of a broader bid to shift Israel´s values in a direction
that is more nationalistic and less democratic.
Officials cited factual errors in the book as the main factor in the
decision. But liberal educators say the errors could easily be
corrected and that the larger issue is a national struggle to define
"The argument about the book is not really about the book," says Riki
Tesler, who teaches education at the Hebrew University and heads the
Academic Forum for Civics Instruction. "It is about who will control
the discourse on civics in Israel. The question is, can civics be as
it is today – pluralistic, Jewish, and democratic – or will it be
ethnocentric and emphasizing patriotism?"
The book, "Taking the Civil Road," was approved by the ministry for
use in August 2011 and is notable for its treatment of Israel´s Arab
The textbook recounts how Palestinians not only fled but were also
forced to leave when Israel was established in 1948. And it places
much of the blame for the frayed relations between Jewish and Arab
citizens on the state, citing for example its expropriating Arab land
during the 1970s and its exclusion of Arabs from state symbols. It
advocates the adoption of a constitution, which Israel doesn´t
currently have, as a way to better protect minority rights and Arab-
Jewish civil society dialogue.
The book´s cancellation reinforces the dominance and assertiveness of
the right-wing, which favors a more nationalistic approach to
domestic affairs, including Jewish settlement expansion in the West
Bank. The right is anxious to thwart what they see as threats to
Israel´s Zionist underpinnings.
´´The trends in this book are anti-Zionist,´´ says Danny Danon, a
member of parliament from Mr. Netanyahu´s Likud party who backed its
cancellation. ´´Its spirit is instead of strengthening our rights, to
call them into question.´´
Growing strength of right-wing
The right would easily retain power if elections were held now,
according to polls. In the most recent session of the Knesset, right-
wing legislators demonstrated intent to make new inroads in a variety
of areas, including the judiciary, targeting what they charge is
a ´´liberal elite´´ that retains positions of influence while, in
their view, not reflecting the will of the majority.
For example, a new draft bill proposed by Justice Minister Yaakov
Neeman would enable a Knesset majority of 65 out of 120 members to
overturn certain supreme court rulings, a step liberals see as
infringing on the court´s ability to protect minority rights.
In another step seen as aimed at changing the political balance,
right-wing legislators proposed last year the setting of stringent
limits on foreign government funding to human rights organizations in
the occupied territories, something the left saw as aimed at
silencing criticism of abuses. And this spring, on April 20, the
state-run Israel Broadcasting Authority discontinued from its weekend
news program its guest opinion segments, a move also seen by critics
as aimed at curtailing criticism.
In addition to nullification of the textbook, the Education Ministry
has over the past year initiated a program with the avowed aim of
strengthening the Zionist identity of students, including through
class trips to the biblical Cave of the Patriarchs, also sacred to
Muslims, in the West Bank city of Hebron.
How the textbook was banned
The civics book recently came under attack in a right-wing newspaper
and the head of parliament´s Education Committee, Alex Miller of the
far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party coalition partner, called an
emergency session last week to discuss it. Mr. Miller maintained that
a section of the book is disparaging to Israel´s 1 million immigrants
from the former Soviet Union, which include himself and Yisrael
Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu´s foreign minister.
The textbook´s editor, Binna Gilday, denies there is any affront
toward immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
At the meeting, Dalit Stauber – director-general for the Education
Ministry and the same person who had approved the book – announced
that it was being excluded from the curriculum because ´´it is
replete with many errors, substantial, professional, factual and
academic.´´ She stressed that the book ´´suffers from imbalance in
its treatment of the fissures in Israeli society – between religious
and secular, Jews and Arabs, and right and left.´´
As an example of the factual errors, ministry officials noted that
the book says there are four cantons in Switzerland, whereas there
are actually 26, and categorizes the USSR as a multiethnic state,
when it was actually a confederation. They said it also misrepresents
an Israeli law as not permitting the sale of land to non-Jews.
Textbook´s editor stands by it
Dr. Gilday defends the textbook in an interview. ´´The book
sanctifies two things: firstly, the state of Israel as a Jewish state
and secondly the state of Israel as a democratic state,´´ she says.
´´What is happening now is that the political establishment is trying
to impose a right-wing agenda and values on the educational
program,´´ she says. ´´There is an attempt to impose a single
viewpoint by the state and not to recognize the existing pluralism.´´
In one exercise, the book appears to place on equal footing the idea
of Israel being a Jewish state and the non-Zionist alternative,
a ´´state of all its citizens," asking students to consider both
points of view. In another section, the authors quote from Yisrael
Beiteinu´s bill last year to make citizenship conditional on a
loyalty oath to the state, which many criticized as a veiled move to
disenfranchise Arabs. The authors go on to give examples of Western
democracies like France and the US and their criteria for
citizenship, which do not include a loyalty oath.
In the section on media and democracy, the book suggests as an
exercise that students analyze the role the media played in forcing a
state inquiry into the 1982 massacre by Lebanese Christian militiamen
permitted by Israel to enter the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian
refugee camps in Beirut.
The book refers to Israel´s ´´capture´´ of the West Bank in 1967,
shunning the right´s preferred term of ´´liberation" of the
territory, which Jordan annexed after the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war.
While liberal educators say the banning of such a book is aimed at
silencing pluralistic voices, some see it as a positive shift after
years of what they consider to be disproportionate liberal influence
in Israeli society.
´´Within the Israeli elite there is very strong control by the
liberal groups, especially extreme liberals," says Uri Elitzur, chief
of staff for Netanyahu during his first term from 1996 to 1999 and
former chairman of the Yesha Council of settlers. "Now, things are
beginning to balance out a bit for the better.´´(© The Christian
Science Monitor. 04/23/12)
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