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'To ask an Arab student to internalize this is a way of humiliating him'

Israel requires all high school students who want to travel abroad on school-sponsored trips to pass an online course that promotes far-right and often racist ideas about Palestinians. One Arab school in northern Israel has had enough of it.

Illustrative photo of Arab students. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of Arab students. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Before a high school student in Israel can participate in a school-sponsored trip overseas they must first answer a series of questions. “How do Palestinian organizations use social media?” is one of them. The only correct answer? “To incite violence.”

The Education Ministry’s online course and test purport to equip students with “tools and basic information” on questions and issues they might encounter abroad. Far-right politician Naftali Bennett made the course mandatory two years ago, when he was education minister.

Last month, The Masar Alternative School in Nazareth challenged the course’s legality. In a letter addressed to the Education Ministry, the school argued that the course is humiliating toward Palestinian citizens of Israel and violates the country’s education law, which “requires consideration of the uniqueness of the Arab minority.”

The course, available only in Hebrew but with optional Arabic subtitles, involves a series of short videos covering 11 topics followed by a multiple-choice exam and can be completed in a matter of hours. Upon completion, students receive a certificate that is valid for four years.

“Students who were traveling abroad were met with questions like what’s going on in Israel? … They were asked about the separation wall, about the country’s borders. They didn’t know what to say,” an Education Ministry official explained in 2015, when an earlier version of the course was offered, although it wasn’t mandatory at the time.

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Reflecting the core thinking behind hasbara, the course centers on the conviction that people around the world criticize Israel not because it occupies millions of Palestinians, but because “they don’t know Israel,” Tal Brody, an American-Israeli former basketball star, says in one of the tutorials.

The students are tasked with defending Israel’s image abroad, and are told they are “young ambassadors” representing the State of Israel anytime they are “outside the country’s borders,” whether they want to or not. Israel’s borders are still disputed and are yet to be officially recognized, a reality that is entirely ignored throughout the course.

One video explains that “the key to hasbara [is] your personal story,” with Naftali Bennett encouraging students to talk about what they intend to do in the army. “Oh, yes, in Israel, every teen, male and female, must enlist in the army,” he continues, effectively erasing Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who aren’t drafted and are widely viewed by the state’s authorities as potential security risks.

Determining that Israeli democracy is unique, Bennett tells students that “Arabs have full equality in Israel.” Not once does he refer to the 1.8 million Palestinians in Israel as “Palestinians.”

After telling the students that Israel is “surrounded by roughly a billion Arabs and Muslims” who, he says, “don’t want this tiny little country to survive,” Bennett explains that Jews have an exclusive claim to this land.

Outgoing Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks with newly appointed Education Minister MK Rafi Peretz, Jerusalem, June 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Outgoing Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks with newly appointed Education Minister MK Rafi Peretz, Jerusalem, June 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“They present the other — namely the Arab, the Palestinian, the Muslim — as a source of terror or danger,” explains Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, an attorney for Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, which sent the letter on behalf of the school. “To ask an Arab student to internalize these statements about himself [is] a way of humiliating him.”

Elsewhere in the course, the students are told that “when the people of Israel arrived here, it was a wasteland.”

Displaying an image of a young child positioned to hurl a stone at a tank, a representative from the Foreign Ministry tells the teenagers, “the tank is defending itself, right? We are Israel’s Defense Forces. The child is the perpetrator. The problem is that most people around the world who look at the photo see those in the tank as the aggressors.” She adds: “People might still come across this image on the news, but if they have other associations [with Israel], it’s possible to blur this image a little bit.”

One question asks students to check from a list of five options what hasbara and dating have in common. Among the possible answers are “talking about flaws” and “discussing failures extensively.” The correct answers are: “not ‘talking someone’s ear off’,” “listening,” and “empowering positive aspects.”

In a question on the origins of modern anti-Semitism, one of three correct answers is “radical Muslim organizations and the BDS [movement].”

A representative of Israel's Education Ministry describes how Muslim immigration to Europe brought on an increase in anti-Semitism as part of a mandatory online course for all Israeli high school students traveling abroad on school-sponsored trips.

A representative of Israel’s Education Ministry describes how Muslim immigration to Europe brought on an increase in anti-Semitism as part of a mandatory online course for all Israeli high school students traveling abroad on school-sponsored trips.

Israel’s Education Ministry did not respond to +972 Magazine’s questions regarding its hasbara program, but in a Q&A page on the course, the ministry denies that the course contains political messages. “The only message the course promotes is that you’ve been selected to represent the State of Israel, and be yourselves.”

Ossama Libbiss has one child who is currently a student at the Masar school and two others who are graduates. Libbiss says he was one of the first parents to learn about the program, when his son, Sim’an, came home frustrated from school one day and told him about it. After realizing what the course was about, Libbiss approached the school’s management.

They quickly learned that in the course’s first year, which was enforced weeks before the school trip, faculty and parents were not aware of its contents, and the students filled out answers based on what they thought Israeli education authorities wanted to hear.

“They just wanted to go on the trip,” Libbiss explained.

For the past nine years, around 25 of its students, usually in 10th grade, partake in an annual cultural exchange, previously in Germany and now in Sweden.

This year, the students knew the course was coming up, and felt conflicted about going along with it. It became a discussion involving the broader school community, which came to a unanimous decision to reject what he described as a state-sponsored indoctrination campaign, Libbiss said.

“At our school, there’s no single truth. Even God is up for debate,” explained Libbiss. “Not only did we refuse to subject our children to the course, we decided to figure out how to carry out the trip in a different way,” he continued. To avoid the state’s restrictions, for the first time, the trip will be organized as a private initiative outside the school curriculum, during the summer break.

For Masar’s director, Ibrahim Abu Elhaiga, the objections to the course are not only moral — they are also educational and socio-political. The course not only promotes racist ideals, but it also totally contradicts the school’s raison d’etre, he said.

Part of the school’s vision is that the community around it acts as agents for social change, explained Abu Elhaiga. “If we are to propose this principle, then we must act on it as well. We can’t bury our heads in the sand.”

For Abu Elhaiga, however, that the trip is no longer led by the school is a heavy price to pay because he believes it detracts from the program’s educational value. For him, as for many in Masar’s community, getting the Education Ministry to stop making students take the course is the way forward. “To allow this to go on is to turn a blind eye to something immoral,” he said.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Rivka Koen

      Absurd and inhuman. I hate the United States, but at least it doesn’t make me memorize a list of Trump’s talking points before I go abroad. Yet.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        I don’t think we have to worry; Trump & Co. know they only command the moral support of a vocal minority here in America, and that such a measure would cause more trouble than it’s worth.

        In Israel, on the other hand, it’s very different. The government could throw every West Bank Palestinian into labor camps, and the majority of Israelis would either keep quiet or openly support it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Rivka Koen

          The Nazis, too, only commanded the support of a vocal minority. But they relied on division within the left and between the left and center in order to rule largely uncontested – or contested only by people who the center would happily help them pack onto the trains. America is showing all signs of going the same way.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            It remains to be seen whether or not Trump and the GOP are even a tenth as canny and ruthless as the Nazis.

            Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          There is a fundamentally racist ideology among the Arabs of Judea and Samaria and Gaza. We remember the foul remarks of Mahmoud Abbas and some others denying the Holocaust and the link between the Temple Mount and Judaism. Now a Hamas leader calls the “Palestinians” living in the world to kill any Jew they find. Strange, no protest from the leftists …

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Sorry, honeybunch, despite your fondest erotic dreams, it just ain’t true that it is “fundamental,” even for Hamas never mind the millions of ordinary West Bank Palestinians Israel holds cruelly captive:

            The militant Hamas group is distancing itself from a leader who called for the killing of Jews worldwide. In a statement Monday, the Islamic movement said recent remarks by Fathi Hammad, a member of its politburo, “don’t represent the movement’s official positions.” Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said Hammad’s remarks conflicted with its amended charter that restricted Hamas’s conflict to the Israeli occupation, “not the Jews or their religion,” according to the statement.

            Now, Halevy, for you, a declared judeosupremacist settler lord of the West Bank, to call out racist ideologies is mind-boggingly hypocritical. The last thing leftists need from you is a lecture on this. Leftists denounce racism from the right and from the left and within any religion. You, apparently, think the most glaring Jewish right wing racism is just fine, because…why, because it’s Jewish. Either that or you want to have a military-backed racism contest, and may the better racists–the ones armed to the teeth with a US and European-funded army–win. Leftist oppose that too.

            In related matters, we are still waiting for you to explain just why it is that settler parents let their children run amok and do the unsafe, criminal things they do in the West Bank. You’re the one all stoked up about good parenting practices, you’re the one smugly feigning to be worried about children, so would you please answer the question? Why do you guys let your children in the territories do the criminal things that they do? One wants to know.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            Always the same blah blah. Read the Hamas Constitution, it advocates the destruction of Israel. Read the speeches of the leaders of Ramallah. They deny Jewish history and say in polite words the same thing as Hamas. Read the school books of the “Palestinian” Authority. The incitement to terrorism of this entity is shocking. Their racism is disgusting. Our children are well educated and go to school 6 days a week. Accusing them with the insanities you write is stupid and racist.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Our children are well educated and go to school 6 days a week.”

            All the more reason they should know better than to spend their time outside of school harassing elders in Hebron simply because said elders are not Jewish and throw shit on people and chop down olive trees and throw rocks and beat shepherds, and build illegal caravans on occupied hilltops and abuse Jewish soldiers too. What are you teaching them in those schools? Precious little actual math and science (geology, biology, evolution?–forget it) and English and history, and zip about human rights, and less still about ordinary human decency and shame. Their entire education it seems to me inculcates in them a budding, flourishing narcissism.
            Read Rafi Peretz. Read Benzti Gopstein. Read the Annals of the Likud Party. Read the Annals of the United Right. Read the collected works of Bezalel Smotrich. Read the annals of Lehava and Ad Kan. Read your “Great Sages.”
            What reason or ammunition have any of these people ever given the Palestinian moderates to triumph over the extremists? You’re completely full of it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gordine

            Our children are very well educated, but they are children. If they throw objects at passers-by, we will punish them by saying that it is not good. By the way, did you see them behaving badly? If this is not the case, stop your blah blah ..

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Yes, Halevy, I have seen them with my own eyes. And so have plenty of other observers.
            And reporters. For example:

            Breaking the Silence staffer Frima (Murphie) Bubis is seen speaking with Israeli police after a settler child threw paint on her head during a tour in Hebron, July 16, 2018. (Mairav Zonszein)
            https://972mag.com/birthright-walk-offs-get-a-taste-of-settler-violence-in-hebron/136740/

            You can’t just lie about this. And we’ve never ever seen you settlers punish your children for it. What we have instead seen is Israeli authorities and its loudmouthed right wing public punishing such whistle blowers as Breaking the Silence and all the NGOs that try to protect the Palestinians from criminal abuse. Including the criminal abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers, cheered on by settlers. We have seen it. Yes.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            Israel is the only country in the world with Singapore having more trees than 70 years ago.Tens of millions of trees were planted in 70 years despite some arson often lit by some members of the minorities. And this does not concern the thousands of hectares of crops destroyed by the kites sent from the terrorist entity in Gaza that you seem to admire so much.

            Reply to Comment
          • RICK CHERTOFF

            The big “mitzfah” of planting (non-indigenous) trees by the non-indigenous settler state turns out to have been an additional strategy of destroying the over 500 Palestinian villages where Zionist forces expelled 800,000 humans in 1947-48. How creative and ingenuous! Luckily information is travelling faster than ever and the craven schemes of dispossession are being exposed. For those of us struggling to maintain a Jewish identity based in justice, such a-historical bragging about fictional achievements when in fact they are part of ethnic cleansing will continue to be fought by all justice loving people.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Itshak the Incorrigible: There is an incorrigible quality to you. The incorrigibleness of the fanatic and the deluded. And one sees it here in full bloom. (Sternhell: “The craft of lying and fabrication is an accepted operating method by radical nationalists for inventing a narrative that meets the needs of nationalist politics.”) It is obnoxious on two counts.

            (1) Fast growing trees planted tactically cover villages ethnically cleansed (as Rick Chertoff explains). Spare us the environmentalist pretensions. We were not born yesterday. What happens to you settlers’ bleating tree-loving hearts when you savagely cut and burn decades and centuries old olive trees owned by Palestinians? By the hundreds. How do you tender tree-lovers reconcile this? We want to know. We await your explanation to this puzzling phenomenon.

            (2) Summer’s wild fires are routinely, reflexively blamed on arson by Palestinians, and the palavering ministers and the Israeli media go wild proliferating such charges, until it becomes clear there has been no such arson and then the Israeli media and the government scurry away and drop the subject cold. No corrections, no soul-searching, they just move on. Next?

            Except sometimes they just keep lying:

            Education Ministry still blaming Arab citizens for ‘arson intifada’
            https://972mag.com/education-ministry-still-blaming-arab-citizens-for-arson-intifada/124507/

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            By +972 Magazine |Published November 25, 2016
            Before the fires are out, Israeli politicians blame the Arabs
            Security officials and counter-terrorism experts warn against calling wildfires terrorism, but Israeli politicians and some media have no such qualms. How do you reach a conclusion before the investigation is even started?
            https://972mag.com/before-the-fires-are-out-israeli-politicians-blame-the-arabs/123341/

            And how do they do that? Ze’ev Sternhell: “The craft of lying and fabrication is an accepted operating method by radical nationalists for inventing a narrative that meets the needs of nationalist politics….”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Our children are well educated and go to school 6 days a week,” Part Two.

            Please also tell me something, Halevy, you settlers who lavish such tender devotion on your children’s schooling, why were you so cruelly obsessed with begrudging these people even building a school for their children in the first place, and then when they managed to build it you became obsessed with scheming every which way to tear down their school? You want to explain that, you tender devotee of children’s education? Go ahead, lay it out for me why these kids just had to have their school torn apart by the Israeli occupying authorities, those caretakers of protected persons under occupation, persons who, as you claim elsewhere, “enjoy a social protection”:

            The Bedouin village where compassion ends
            https://972mag.com/the-bedouin-village-where-compassion-ends/130063/

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            Are you aware that “blah blah” is not a noun?

            Reply to Comment