ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Textbook is 'simply indoctrination of students,' Yavin says

High school student highlights right-wing think tank’s influence on civics curricula

Yuli Yavin says 2016 edition of ‘Being a Citizen in Israel,’ with significant input from Kohelet Forum, includes talking points used by supporters of coalition’s overhaul plans

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Yuli Yavin, 18, protests against the high school civics textbook 'Being an Israeli Citizen' in Tel Aviv, March 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Yuli Yavin, 18, protests against the high school civics textbook 'Being an Israeli Citizen' in Tel Aviv, March 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A 12th-grader’s protest is shining a fresh spotlight on the Kohelet Policy Forum’s outsized influence on public discourse, drawing attention to the right-wing think tank’s involvement in a civics textbook taught throughout the country.

The Kohelet Forum shot to public awareness in recent months due to its deep involvement in the current government’s efforts to overhaul and severely restrict the powers of the judiciary, leading to a massive protest movement that has shaken the country.

Yuli Yavin, 18, recently launched an effort against Kohelet focused on its activities in the education sphere.

Yavin said she was surprised to find — while researching a project for her civics class at a Herzliya high school — that Aviad Bakshi, the head of Kohelet’s legal department, had made significant contributions to the book “Being a Citizen in Israel,” widely taught in high schools. She began leading a protest against the material’s inclusion in the curriculum at the end of March.

“I set up a presentation on Kaplan Street [in Tel Aviv, the site of many anti-government protests], with the text ‘Kohelet — not in our schools,’ on an enlarged model of the book,” Yavin said in a video circulating social media.

She gave examples of paragraphs in the book that mirror arguments often used by coalition lawmakers and other supporters of the plans to shackle the courts.

“In almost every democratic country, Supreme Court justices are appointed by politicians,” Yavin quoted from the book.

“It’s written just like this, thrown into the air, without any explanation that other countries have different kinds of mechanisms that safeguard the independence of each branch of government,” she added.

“An activist court strives to influence, through its judgments, the policy of various government bodies, and to be a central and direct player in society,” she quoted again from the material, representing another claim by backers of the overhaul that the court has become overly activist.

“The quote represents a position, according to which the main goal of the judiciary is to influence government policy,” Yavin added. “I realized that it was simply indoctrination of students, in the lead-up to what today is called judicial reform.”

Bakshi is currently part of the coalition’s team negotiating a compromise legislative package with the opposition at the President’s Residence. Justice Minister Yariv Levin has cited Bakshi as one of the Kohelet scholars he consulted with in drawing up the far-reaching proposals.

The textbook, first introduced in 2001, was revised and approved by then-education minister Naftali Bennett in 2016. It was criticized at the time for marginalizing Israel’s Arab community and its secular public, mentioning the settlements and Palestinians only in passing, and offering “more Judaism, less democracy,” according to several reviews and an editorial in the Haaretz daily.

Pointedly, no Arab Israeli editors are listed in the credits of the book.

Yavin said her protest initiative is calling for Kohelet “not to be involved in the civics studies’ educational content.”

“We are saying thanks for their textbooks, but no thanks. We don’t want to learn civics like this in school,” she said, adding that because of the book, she believed students were graduating without grasping the significance of the coalition’s plans.

Protesters rally against the government’s judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“When they published the document in 2016, it was a problem, but today when we see what is happening in the country, it’s impossible to ignore the connection between what is being taught by the Education Ministry and what is happening in real life,” she recently told the Ynet news site.

As they stand, the coalition’s proposals aim to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on the executive, which already controls parliament, while also handing the government control over the appointment of practically all judges, including in the Supreme Court.

Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the legislative push late last month to allow for talks on a compromise deal, but many in the opposition say they suspect the government is insincere in its attempts to reach a deal.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been holding weekly mass protests in Tel Aviv and around the country against the plans, persisting even after the suspension of the legislative process.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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