Several left-wing lawmakers objected Tuesday to a new civics textbook for high school students, arguing that under the guidance of Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Jewish Home party, the mandatory curriculum highlighted Israel’s Jewish identity while downplaying its democratic character.
Zionist Union MK Micky Rosenthal characterized the book as containing “more Judaism, less democracy.”
The Knesset Education Committee held a session on Tuesday to debate the new matriculation textbook, which will be taught in both Jewish and Arab schools, and is set to be published in the coming weeks. (The Times of Israel has not reviewed the content of the textbook).
The head of the left-wing Meretz party, Zehava Galon, said in a statement 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.”
Galon also took issue with the opening of the book, which she said replaced a segment from the Declaration of Independence with a Hebrew prayer and a note on the Jewish tradition of smashing a glass at weddings in commemoration of the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem.
“Friends, we are under attack,” she continued, noting the recent campaign of the Im Tirtzu organization against human rights groups as foreign agent “moles,” as well as what she called the “frightening incitement the government is leading against human rights groups.”
“Another front, quieter and far more dangerous, is the Education Ministry’s moral corruption and declaration of war against everything we believe in – pluralism, secularism, equal rights for all citizens, freedom of worship, and freedom of conscience,” she said.
The State of Israel “is deteriorating into fascism,” Galon charged. “It is becoming a place which has no room for those who are not partners in the messianic, religious and nationalist vision of Bennett and his cohorts… It is imperative that we see that we are in a war for the state, the Education Ministry, the future of our children, their home and ours. And we cannot lose.”
MK Rosenthal called Bennett the “acting editor” of the textbook. “The one] whose spirit lingers throughout the whole book is Education Minister Bennett, and primarily the anti-democratic figures in his party, the Jewish Home,” he said.
Rosenthal said the authors of several of the chapters withdrew their texts from the book in protest, and a number of members of the committee tasked with overseeing the civics textbook had resigned.
“The majority of academic experts in the civics field are fuming and claim that their positions on the problems with the book were ignored,” he said.
Following the Knesset debate, the committee urged the Education Ministry to review the criticism of the text prior to its publication in six weeks. But the ministry announced Tuesday night that it had approved the book for publication, although it stressed that schools would be able to teach civics based on this, or two other textbooks, at their discretion. The ministry also denied Galon’s claim that the book does not open with the Declaration of Independence.
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.