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The one good thing the next government could accomplish

If Yair Lapid’s party takes over the Education Ministry, it could bring an end to the Greater-Israelization of the country’s schools and universities.

Yair Lapid with “Yesh Atid” activists (photo: Yotam Ronen / activestills.org)

After 45 years of occupation and no end in sight, it would be better for Israel to have a completely right-wing/ultra-Orthodox government than a right-wing/centrist one with Yair Lapid, Kadima and possible other fig leaves. A purely hardline government would attract more opposition, especially abroad, while a right/center amalgam will fool a lot of people into thinking things aren’t so bad. In short, a Bibi/Lapid government is more beneficial to the occupation than a Bibi/Yishai government – and it looks virtually certain that a Bibi/Lapid government is what we’re going to get.

Yet while ending Israel’s rule over the Palestinians is the overriding need, and while a wall-to-wall extremist government is preferable to an extremist/moderate cabinet for that reason, there is one very important accomplishment that only a centrist party like Lapid’s Yesh Atid could make in the next government. I’m not talking about his goal of mainstreaming the haredim into the army and workplace, or of lowering the cost of living. I think the haredim are too numerous and zealous to be overpowered, and I don’t see a go-go capitalist system, which is what Lapid supports, making life much easier for average people. Instead, what I mean is putting an end to the radical right-wing politicization of Israeli schools and, to a lesser extent, universities at the hands of the education minister, which is what Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar has done over the last four years.

In an op-ed earlier this month titled “The subduing of academia,” Haaretz education writer Or Kashti listed the afflictions Sa’ar has visited on the schools:

[T]he minister’s nationalist indoctrination in the schools in recent years has included sending students on field trips to the settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron, and to the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem that is run by the right-wing Elad organization. It has also included close cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces to increase the rate at which high school graduates enlist in the army. That rate had been made a criterion upon which schools are judged and rewarded. The national anthem is now learned in preschools, consideration of the Palestinian viewpoint has been removed from history textbooks. Revisions have been made to civics curricula, which were perhaps the last domain that offered students a more complex view of reality. In the end, the person at the ministry responsible for the civic curriculum, Adar Cohen, was dismissed.

That was in the schools; in the universities, Kashti wrote, Sa’ar was responsible for “the threat to close the politics and government department at Ben-Gurion University, the upgrade to university status of the University Center of Samaria in the settlement of Ariel, and recognition … of the [right-wing] Shalem Center in Jerusalem as an institution authorized to award bachelor’s degrees for two programs.”

More than any education minister I can remember, Sa’ar has imposed the governing Israeli worldview – illiberal nationalism – on the teaching of the country’s young. He has had a chilling effect on educators. And while neither he nor the schools nor, certainly, the universities (which remain generally liberal) are completely to blame for the closing of the youthful Israeli mind, Sa’ar bears as much guilt for this as one Israeli education minister conceivably could. Here’s the latest evidence of how closed the youthful Israeli mind has become: A survey of 1,000 Israeli teenagers taken by the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust found 57 percent of them think “the whole world is against us and we have nobody to rely on but ourselves.” From today’s Haaretz:

According to Massuah director Aya Ben Naftali, “This feeling that was typical of the mood in the 1950s and ’60s was replaced in the ’80s and ’90s by expressions of international belonging and solidarity, as part of faith in the peace process.”

She notes that in the past two decades the discussion on the universal meaning of the Holocaust and the meaning for Israel and the Jewish people existed side by side. But “today we meet young people who put more emphasis on the national implications, and we are hearing the belief that we ‘have to rely only on ourselves.’ This phenomenon takes us back a generation, for the most part, to the atmosphere of Israel in the 1960s.”

During his campaign, Lapid said he wanted to become education minister. I think he should stick to that goal, or secure the job for somebody else in Yesh Atid; there are some very good people in that party’s Knesset faction. They’re not going to achieve the goals they campaigned on, while they are, unfortunately, going to be a fig leaf for the occupation. But they are not Gideon Sa’ar-style zealots and could certainly be expected to end the Greater-Israelization of the education system. If Lapid gave Yesh Atid control of the Education Ministry, which is his for the asking, he could free the schools and universities from Likud indoctrination, which would be at least a partial saving grace in his otherwise indefensible collaboration with Netanyahu’s next illiberal nationalist government.

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    1. XYZ

      Quote from Aya Ben-Naftali
      today we meet young people who put more emphasis on the national implications, and we are hearing the belief that we ‘have to rely only on ourselves.’ This phenomenon takes us back a generation, for the most part, to the atmosphere of Israel in the 1960s.”

      Gee, I wonder why this has happened. Could it be that the Palestinians and other neighbors returned our “internationalist solidarity” with mass suicide bombings, rocket attacks and endless antisemitic propaganda delegitiming not only Israel and Zionism but also the Jewish people’s existence? Does Egyptian President Mursi’s characterization of Jews as “bloodsuckers” and “decendents of apes and pigs” show reciprocal goodwill? Do you really think the Israeli public is stupid and doesn’t draw conclusions from this and are only being supposedly manipulated by a Likud Education Minister?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      Perhaps the particular ‘world is against us’ mentality derives from the vile, irrational and disproportionate hatred of Israel and Israelis by those that claim to speak globally in the name of international belonging and solidarity? Or could it be that international belonging and solidarity for Israel seems to be conditional on absorbing rockets and suicide bombings without responding? Why would anyone willingly impose on one’s children a system of values whose external judges are a priori hostile to them and often support their enemies regardless of the circumstances? It sounds like a recipe for self-loathing on a mass scale.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      I think Lapid could do a refreshing shakeup in the Interior ministry, too.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Quentin Holt

      Hmm, Lapid as Education Minister. I can picture the tears rolling down Bibi’s cheeks as the Bibi Youth ( and their catchcry ‘ their is no god but Adelson and Bibi is prophet ‘ ) are disbanded.
      Ahh the ravages of foiled megalomania.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Of course the choice of minister influences the policy of a department everywhere. Yet the notion that Lapid’s party could “have control” of the education ministery is more than that. I am again reminded of the war time beginnings of the Knesset, where multiple factions were necessary, all needing something direct. A war council, where each member requires some due. Coaltion governments seem inevitable in Israel (as opposed to the UK), making departments fiefdoms to large degree. The law as applied perforce will be negotiated, for the coalition must hold.

      Talk of changing Israel’s parliamentary democracy may be related to this. A “presidential” system presumably would place more policy control in a single place. But can a democracy evolved as a sitting war council withstand such a change? I do not mean this as an attack, but observation. I think too the concept of war council can apply to the implicit constitution as a whole, with the Knesset, Administration, Court, and IDF sitting as members employing a kind of nullification power on their home turfs; thus judicial oversight has failed to evolve as council “members” will not allow it. Witness Bibi’s recent annulling of a High Court injunction in the Bank.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Unfortunately, a parliamentary-coalition government like Israel’s needs its court as a fulcrum even more than a more stable form. Without it, there is an inevitable slide towards dictatorship.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Bibi has never annulled a High Court injunction. Such a thing never took place. At least get your facts straight when you pontificate.

        Reply to Comment
        • The injunction against demolition was clear. In a rational world, expulsion is part of demolition; in fact, the purpose of demolition is expulsion. Leaving the tents up, claiming this avoided demolition, voided the usual use of the act by the IDF. The injunction was annulled as aplied. And some day Justices will finally stand up for their Court.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Greg, not even in a rational world is expulsion a part of demolition. Expulsion was not prohibited and it was given to the security forces to determine whether it should take place. There was no annulment of any decree. You are making this up to fit your own narrative. You have some mental model of a situation and even though it is built out of ignorance and arrogance you continue to interpret events according to it. You tend to do this a lot. Have you found this to be a common problem for you?

            Reply to Comment
          • K9, obviously the original injunction covered explusion; it is the way the security apparatus works. The petitioners asked time to show cause to build on private land. What happen thereafter was that the Executive issued a veto on grounds of secuirty, which is indeed common in your land. As you must know, the State as ignored judicial decisions on many occasions. In matters of the Bank, one earlier Justice said something like “we could issue an injunction, but would if be obeyed?” Consider the fate of multiple injunctions over moving the Wall in Bil’in. This Court kowtowed to the State–once again–to avoid direct confrontation. This is your “implicit constitution”: one of fiefdoms by issues, vetoing or dampening acts by other “branches” when invasive to core fief matters. Your land has never evolved judicial supremacy, with consequence beyond the Bank.

            I am not interested in personal attacks, nor in deconstructing your mind.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            If the petitioners asked for time to show cause to build on private land they were granted that time since their construction was not removed until the court ruled. There is nothing in such a petition that suggests that they must stay in the half-built residences during the course of deliberations.

            The state moved huge chunks of the wall in response to High Court rulings. Where it hasn’t it has been dutiful in asking the court for time to implement the changes.

            Reply to Comment
    6. em

      Is that a joke?! ” The National Anthem is now learned in Pre-school.” What is wrong with learning the national anthem when that is the country in which you live?! You’re crazy!

      Reply to Comment
    7. Nikki

      While the “Israelization” of schools is a concern i’m more concerned about the conditions of teachers, i.e. salary, etc. This is where i feel serious change needs to be effected. How are people who are educators, imo a very vital position within society considering the influence and amount of time they spend with our future generations, among the lowest paid professions in the country. How is it someone making an average of 7,000 NIS per month suppose to survive, let alone sustain a family when the average cost of rent in Israel is around 4,000-5000 NIS. Do we expect our teachers to reside in ghettos?

      Reply to Comment