Bennett spurns reports of ‘factually and morally wrong’ civics textbook

Yet-to-be published tome said to claim Israeli Arabs carried out most attacks in currrent spate, downplay role of incitement by the right in Rabin murder; minister says quotes are incorrect but refuses to show work publicly

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Illustrative photo of high school students (Maya Levin/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of high school students (Maya Levin/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett slammed reports that a new high-school textbook set to be released in the coming weeks presents a religiously skewed view of Israeli civic life and an inaccurate narrative of the county’s history.

Channel 2 News and the Haaretz daily quoted sections of the book Monday and Tuesday that claimed most terror attacks were carried out by Israeli Arabs and downplays the role of right-wing incitement in the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Bennett said the book did not contain a quote claiming most attacks are carried out by Israeli Arabs and described the reportage as “substandard journalism.”

The reports are only based on secondhand accounts of the content as the manuscript has not been released to the public.

Responding to a Twitter request by a journalist to receive the full manuscript, Bennett retorted, “I don’t work for [your] paper. It’s your responsibility not to publish lies.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett walks his little girl Avigail to first grade, her first day of school and his first opening of a school year as the education minister, on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. (Sasson Tiram)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett walks his little girl Avigail to first grade, her first day of school and his first opening of a school year as the education minister, on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. (Sasson Tiram)

On Monday night Channel 2 quoted from an 11-page letter written by Prof. Tamar Hermann, a political science expert who worked on the book, describing the work as “educational negligence.”

Among other criticisms, Hermann wrote that the book rejects the claim that Rabin’s murder was caused by right-wing incitement and suggests that most of the recent terror attacks in the current wave of violence were caused by “Arab citizens of Israel.”

“It is a false historical account that serves the government,” she wrote.

Haaretz published a seven-page letter by copy editor Yehuda Yaari who quoted large swaths of the book he had recommended be changed. The passages in Yaari’s letter back up Hermann’s claims.

“It is scandalous. It is morally and factually wrong,” Yaari concluded.

The Education Ministry said in response that the quotes cited were not reliable and did not reflect the book accurately.

“They are parts of a draft that has since been updated and not from the latest version. When the ministry issues the book, it will make it available to the public to allow an accurate and proper discussion.”

The book first made headlines after reports last month said that it replaced a segment from the Declaration of Independence with a Hebrew prayer.

During a December Knesset committee meeting, several left-wing lawmakers objected argued that under the guidance of Bennett, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, the mandatory school curriculum highlighted Israel’s Jewish identity while downplaying its democratic character.

Leader of the Joint Arab list, Ayman Odeh leads the weekly Joint Arab list meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, October 12, 2015. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Ayman Odeh leads the weekly Joint (Arab) List meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Responding to the latest reports, Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint (Arab) List, said Tuesday that Bennett sees democratic values as a threat.

“This book is a continuation of the government campaign of incitement against Arab citizens,” he said. “It is a mixture of lies and hatred.”

The head of the left-wing Meretz party, Zehava Galon, said in a statement Tuesday that the book “erases Israel’s democratic character and entirely subjugates it to its Jewish one.” She maintained that “subjects such as minority rights were limited or erased in the new edition, [and] there is a distinction made between ‘bad Arabs’ and ‘good Arabs’ who are loyal and serve in the IDF.”

She called for the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the book.

In 2012, the Education Ministry pulled a new civics textbook from classrooms after it was found to contain factual errors and disparaging comments about Soviet immigrants.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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