Talking ’bout a revolution
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Hebrew media review

Talking ’bout a revolution

The recommendations of a committee on better incorporating Mizrahi culture into Israel’s education system is praised, and cautiously questioned, by the Hebrew-language media

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (right) shakes hands with Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton after receiving a committee's recommendation on increasing Mizrahi education in Israeli schools, on July 7, 2016. (Courtesy: Education Ministry)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (right) shakes hands with Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton after receiving a committee's recommendation on increasing Mizrahi education in Israeli schools, on July 7, 2016. (Courtesy: Education Ministry)

The recommendations of a committee tasked with better incorporating Mizrahi Jewish culture and history into Israel’s education system are the focus of today’s leading Hebrew-language papers, which label the development as no less than a “revolution,” and deliberate over whether the move will help advance equality in the Jewish state or do just the opposite.

The panel, headed by Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton, handed its recommendations to Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday. For decades, school curricula have been criticized for an allegedly biased emphasis on European, or Ashkenazi, Jewish history, to the detriment of Sephardi and Mizrahi traditions and cultures — those of Spain and Muslim lands. Among the suggestions of the committee were the production of a documentary series chronicling the legacy of Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewry and sponsoring school heritage trips to Spain and Morocco.

“An historic correction,” writes Yedioth Aharonoth‘s Merav Betito, a prominent advocate for the promotion of Mizrahi Jewish culture and values in Israeli society. “Without speeches of incitement and declarations of instigation, without any blunt accusations and an overarching request to settle debts, the Biton Committee came to fix what had been wrong for so many years,” she continues. “Education Minister Bennett’s historic decision to fix the education system is the most important message that may come from this current government.”

Analyst Ben-Dror Yemini, on the other hand, thinks the “revolution is incomplete,” and posits that some of the committee’s recommendations may do more harm than good. The recommendation to establish a [university] department for the study of the Orient has a whiff of separation,” he writes. “There are no departments for the study of Ashkenazi [Jewry]. Why should there be a department for the study of Mizrahi Jewry? Jewish history did not suffer from a distinct line between Ashkenazi and Sephardic [Jews].”

Israel Hayom takes a practical approach to its reports on the committee’s recommendation, highlighting the numbers behind the move and covering the details of what the Mizrahi revolution will entail. The paper, for example, stresses that the implementation of the committee’s suggestions would require some NIS 250 million and explains that the panel recommended for the make-up of the Council of Higher Education to be 50% Mizrahi Jews.

Poet and Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton reads Psalm 122 at the Knesset during the swearing-in of new MKs, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (Screen capture)
Poet and Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton reads Psalm 122 at the Knesset during the swearing-in of new MKs, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (Screen capture)

An op-ed by Biton himself is presented later in the paper. The Israel Prize laureate explains what motivated him and his fellow panel members in their decisions, stressing that up until now a graduate of a typical Israeli high school could have gone through 12 years of education without being exposed to a single poem or literary work written by a Jews of Sephardic origins.

“For ten years, a major, ongoing deterioration has occurred with regards to the exclusion of the Mizrahi foundation in the education system,” Biton writes. “[But] the incorporation of the committee’s recommendations is massive just in terms of its existence, and it serves as a pointer for the next generations, with a simple and concrete vision that a nation is built from the sum of its parts. A significant familiarity between the different parts of the nation and a positive affinity for different cultures and heritages will lessen social antagonism and verbal violence and prejudice that threaten to strike at the wholeness of the nation and its future.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by former chief of staff Ari Harow and former parliamentary adviser Perach Lerner as he arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Israeli parliament, November 24, 2014. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by former chief of staff Ari Harow (left) and former parliamentary adviser Perach Lerner as he arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Israeli parliament, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In Haaretz, the focus is on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and long-term adviser Ari Harow, who is suspected of conducting illegal business dealings. The Los Angeles-born Harow was appointed the PMO chief of staff in 2014, and served for a year before leaving to run the 2015 election campaign for Netanyahu’s Likud party. Last year, Harow was questioned by police under caution “for a range of offenses” before being released to house arrest for five days. Police also said they set financial restrictions on Harow during the period.

Haaretz — not known for its love of Netanyahu — segues from the new report on Harow to reminding readers that another investigation into the prime minister himself is currently underway, and that the exact details of the affair, now under gag order, will most probably be cleared for publication in the coming weeks.

Back in Yedioth, the daily reports that veteran Israeli rocker Shalom Hanoch and Mizrahi diva Sarit Hadad have united for a surprising duet on Hanoch’s upcoming album, which is set to hit the stands in August 1.

Sarit Hadad (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)
Sarit Hadad (Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

“Shalom sent the song by email, and our first date was at the recording studio at his home, where we sat into the night in conversation and thoughts,” Hadad tells the paper. “We were together for a few good hours, and I felt that I had known him for years.” Hanoch, for his part, praises Hadad’s vocal abilities, adding that he has already written another song for her, should she chose to accept the offer of another collaboration.

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