Outcry as government pulls book over ‘intermarriage’ fears
Love story between an Israeli woman and an Arab man rejected from school curriculum for ‘threatening Jewish identity’
Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.
A battery of Israeli politicians and writers lambasted on Thursday a government decision to disqualify from high school curricula a book that depicts a love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian.
The Education Ministry announced that Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (translated as “Borderlife” in English) had been rejected for inclusion.
Teachers had requested the book’s inclusion in the ministry’s reading list but its content was deemed unfit for high school students.
“Officials discussed the matter of including the book in the curriculum,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday. “After it seriously examined all the considerations, and weighed the advantages and drawbacks, they decided not to include the book in the curriculum.”
After requests to include it from a number of teachers, an Education Ministry committee backed adding to the curriculum but was later overruled by two senior ministry officials
An unnamed ministry spokeswoman was quoted by the Haaretz daily Wednesday as saying the book was rejected because it could undermine the “separate identities” of Jews and Arabs.
“Intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews are viewed by many in society as a threat to separate identities,” she reportedly said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the decision represented a “backward worldview.” He said he bought “several copies of the book” and told students at a pre-army academy he was visiting Thursday that they should all read it.
“I asked them, ‘Are the People of the Book afraid of books? Are the People of the Book afraid of stories? Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that their education minister is afraid of books and stories?’” he said. “This is a backward worldview that does not believe the public can make decisions for themselves.”
The left-wing Meretz party called for a demonstration outside the Education Ministry over the disqualification of the novel.
“Gader Haya,” published in 2014, tells the story of an Israeli translator and a Palestinian artist who fall in love in New York but later part ways as she returns to the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and he to Ramallah in the West Bank.
It was among the winners of the Bernstein Prize for young writers, an annual Israeli award for Hebrew literature.
Author Rabinyan pointed to an upside of the ruling: “It seems like someone in the Education Ministry still believes in the power of literature to generate change in the malleable souls of youths, and for some reason, that sounds optimistic to me.”
The veteran Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua, whose classic novel “The Lover” also depicts a relationship between an Israeli and a Palestinian, said the move not only targeted Rabinyan’s novel but threatened all literature.
“He who refuses to include it in the adult educational plan of literature students doesn’t only show that he has no understanding of what true literature is, but also disqualifies dozens of books, stories, plays and movies in one stroke that try, each in its own way, to realistically address the complicated relationships between us and the minority that lives among us and under our occupation,” Yehoshua told Haaretz.
“In any case, I hope that the silver lining will be sweet and because of this dark disqualification, Rabinyan’s book will get additional attention and draw in a wider audience of readers,” he added.
Sales of the book rocketed Thursday, with some people buying multiple copies and posting pictures to social media to show solidarity with the author and subject matter. Army Radio reported several that Steimatzky bookstores, Israel’s biggest chain, were selling out. Channel 2 said later that the book had sold out at most stores nationwide, with sales at 100 times previous levels.
Publishing house Am Oved said it was ordering a new printing as a result of the surge in sales.
Just bought 2 copies of the Arab-Israeli romance 'killed-out-of-the-education-ministry-list' books by @DoritRabinyan pic.twitter.com/gIA8G5qJWX
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) December 31, 2015
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also heads the Jewish Home party, has yet to respond to the criticism.
Earlier this month Bennett decided not to allow members of the Breaking the Silence NGO to speak to high school students, as debate raged over the role of the group in Israeli society. The group has faced criticism for its work collecting testimony, usually anonymous, from Israeli military veterans of alleged abuses of power from within the army.
Last week several opposition lawmakers criticized a new civics textbook for high school students, arguing that under Bennett’s guidance, the mandatory curriculum highlighted Israel’s Jewish identity while downplaying its democratic character.
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.
AFP contributed to this report.