+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

The Zionist educator we should have listened to

At a time when Israel’s education minister sees only Jews as moral, it is worth remembering a prominent Zionist educator who taught us that things could have turned out differently.

By Gil Gertel

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Yedioth Ahronoth's Stop BDS conference, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Yedioth Ahronoth’s Stop BDS conference, March 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This past week marked “Land Day,” in which we commemorate and decry the dispossession of Israel’s Arab citizens of their land. Fate also had it that on that very same week, the Israeli public found itself a new national hero, who took the slogan “death to Arabs” and made it a reality.

On the day following the Hebron shooting, Education Minister Naftali Bennett attacked those who hurried to seal the fate of the soldier, supporting him half-heartedly because he “protects each and every one of us.” Last Saturday night, Bennett figured out which way the wind blows, joining the chorus of those who decided on their own that the soldier did not commit murder.

Since we lack any real prominent educators in the present, we must dust off the writings of Yitzhak Epstein, a distinguished and pioneering educator who was one of the first Hebrew educators in pre-state Palestine. He came to Palestine in 1886 at age 23, serving as an agriculture guide at the behest of Baron Rothschild. Five years later he began working in education, when he was appointed as teacher and principal at a girls’ school in Safed.

Epstein, in one sentence, asked us to look at things from the perspective of the other. This ability is necessary for a society based on institutions of justice, and, surprise surprise, it is the basis for all processes of learning and education. At the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905, Epstein gave a speech titled “The Hidden Question,” which was published in print in 1907. “Among the difficult issues regarding the rebirth of our people in its homeland, one issue outweighs them all: our relations with the Arabs. This issue, upon whose correct resolution hinges the revival of our national hope, has not been forgotten by the Zionists but has gone completely unnoticed by them and, in its true form, is barely mentioned in the literature of our movement.”

The things Epstein saw

Epstein already talked about all the Zionists who denied the existence of the Arabs: “We devote attention to everything related to our homeland, we discuss and debate everything, we praise and criticize in every way, but one trivial thing we have overlooked so long in our lovely country: there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave.”

Epstein responded to all those who pride themselves on a land unique to Jews: “At a time when we are feeling the love of the homeland with all our might, the land of our forefathers, we are forgetting that the people who live there now also have a sensitive heart and a loving soul. The Arab, like any man, has a strong bond with his homeland…”

To all those who mocked the Arabs for not having developed the land, Epstein, as one of the first Zionists there, explains: The time has come to dispel the misconceptions among the Zionists that land in Palestine lies uncultivated for lack of working hands or laziness of the local residents. There are no deserted fields.”

And to all those who reject the Arabs’ national sentiment, Epstein has this to say: “One can definitely say, that at the present time, there is no Arab national or political movement in Palestine. But this people has no real need of a movement: it is large and numerous and does not require a revival because it never ceased to exist for even a moment.”

Justice over nationalism

Epstein then suggests two principles that should guide our treatment of the Arabs.

A. The Jewish people, the foremost with regard to justice and the law, egalitarianism and the brotherhood of man, respects not only the individual rights of every person but also the national rights of every nation and ethnic group.

Yitzhak Epstein.

Yitzhak Epstein.

B. The people of Israel, yearning for rebirth, is in solidarity — in belief and deed — with all nations who are awakening to life and treats their aspirations with love and goodwill and fosters in them their sense of national identity.

Epstein uses a moral justification for these principles, which rest on a Jewish worldview that protects the weak from the powerful: “A nation which declared: ‘but the land must not be sold beyond reclaim,’ and which gives preference to the rights of one who cultivates the land over one who buys it, must not and cannot confiscate land from those who work it and settled on it in good faith. We must not uproot people from land to which they and their forefathers dedicated their best efforts and toil.”

Epstein responds to Bennett and his friends, who prefer the nationalist, short-sighted point of view over justice and morality: “Whenever what we believe to be the national good violates human justice, this good will become a national sin from which there is no repentance… But we sin against our nation and our future if we facilely cast aside our choicest weapon: the justice and the purity of our cause. As long as we hold to these principles, we are mighty and need fear no one, but if we abandon them – our strength is in vain and our courage for nought…”

Epstein gives several economic and utilitarian explanations, adding: “Will those who are dispossessed remain silent and accept what is being done to them? In the end, they will wake up and return to us in blows what we have looted from them with our gold! […] Let us not depend upon the ash that covers the embers: one spark escapes, and soon it will be a conflagration out of control.”

Morality for Jews alone

But let’s go back to talking about education. I can understand the argument that the Jew kills an Arab because the Arab “rises up against him” and the Jew preemptively strikes. But this is contingent on us making an effort to look at things from the other side, and recognizing that the Arab attacked a Jewish soldier with a knife, since from his perspective, the occupying soldier is “rising up against him.” If there is such a thing as morality, it applies to both sides. Bennett does not believe this. If the people yell, “the soldier is a hero!” Bennett bends morality such that it applies to Jews alone.

Bennett looks at things through the short-sighted prism of Jewish nationalism. But what good will one Arab killed by long-sightedness do? Does anyone really think that a blind, belligerent Zionism can bring about any future aside from one full of hatred, blood, and fear in the streets?

As opposed to Epstein, we have the privilege of 111 years of perspective, which prove that nothing good comes out of this. Epstein asked that we look at reality for what it is, and despite the passage of time, very few have been willing to open their eyes.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Newsletter banner

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Carmen

      Were Yitzhak Epstein speaking these words today, he’d receive death threats and need protection….from his fellow zionists.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Carmen

      As much as I appreciate Mr. Epstein’s more humane views, there is the overriding paternalism throughout his thoughts and not the full respect and acceptance of Arabs as equals. Maybe today he’d be much more that way. He was born in a colonial era, but it’s hard to read his thoughts without the very strong paternal, supremacist attitude through the whole thing. Yuck.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      Where is the Arabs’ Yizhak Epstein?
      All I see is a monotonous voice from the other side preaching “Allu Akhbar !” and slaughter the infidel.
      The reality is that in Hebron a Jihadi who tried to butcher Israelis was taken out and we should be grateful for that. The IDF soldier deserves a medal for eliminating the crazed bloody killer.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        The point is that most of the early Zionist settlers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were making noises about getting rid of the Arabs; they weren’t thinking about the possibility of sharing the land, they were thinking about ethnic cleansing.

        Reply to Comment
      • susy

        Lewis, the occupation is a 24/7 form of terrorism for those who suffers it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          “Bennett looks at things through the short-sighted prism of Jewish nationalism”

          …now contrast that to the prism of Arab nationalism…

          The Arabs make their approach contingent on them making an effort to look at things from the other side, ours, and recognizing that when the Jew attacks an Arab it is because from the Jewish perspective, the arabs are “rising up against Jews.”???

          The Arabs think like that? Of course not. What a stupid question. But what isn’t stupid is that extreme lefties don’t expect Arabs to think like that. They only expect such thinking from Jews.

          Whichever way one looks at that, it is a form of racism!!!

          …they sorta say something like…

          1. Jews must perform to a higher standard. I ask why????!!!!

          2. That such standards are not expected of “mere” Arabs. And that is just pure racism!!!

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You just made that up. You really do live in an hermetically sealed thought world. What you say about lefties not expecting Arabs to forswear violence if violence is not done to them–the occupation is scientifically organized terror and shuts off any protest peaceful or not–is just not true. You just make this stuff up. For years on end the PA has been providing you security. While you vilify them. And blabber about how unfair it is that you have to occupy them and steal their land and build swimming pools on it. You have submerged German submarines hiding in those pools? Geez.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            The Arabs behaved no differently prior to the occupation. They carried terror attacks and pogroms against Jews even before 1929, before Israel even came into existence. In fact, the occupation is the outcome of Arab aggression against Israel. And the reason why the occupation continues is because the Arabs don’t want to give up the idea of eliminating the Jewish state, if necessary by violent means.

            Reply to Comment
          • Alex

            “The Arabs behaved no differently prior to the occupation. They carried terror attacks and pogroms against Jews even before 1929, before Israel even came into existence.”

            And why would, or should, the Palestinians have behaved any differently prior to the occupation, when they were being violently dispossessed and their homeland was being violently colonized by your foreign zios even before 1929, and before your precious little garrison state even came into existence?

            “In fact, the occupation is the outcome of Arab aggression against Israel.”

            No, the occupation is the outcome of foreign zio colonizers and aggressors from Europe and elsewhere proclaiming states in one part of Palestine, and attempting to enslave the indigenous Palestinian population in all the other parts of Palestine

            “And the reason why the occupation continues is because the Arabs don’t want to give up the idea of eliminating the Jewish state, if necessary by violent means.”

            No, the reason the occupation continues is because the zios are hoping that if they close their little eyes and hold their little breaths for long enough, they won’t have to give up their dream of eliminating the Palestinians.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        As Gertel notes but the point would appear lost on Lewis, where is the Jews’ Yitzhak Epstein? We have to make do with dusting off his works. Because we’re stuck today with judeofascist midgets like Naftali Bennet.

        A medal for cowardice? For casually pulling the trigger on a disabled prisoner in a cold blooded execution after remarking that the kid just had to die? This is what the Israeli Jews of today are screaming for en masse. And who then are the crazed bloody killers, Lewis? Are they not the incited Israeli public? The lone teens attacking soldiers of an occupying army these days are not “jihadis.” Nor are they “crazed.” Nor are they incited imbeciles. As Gertel notes, from the perspective of the Arab attacking a soldier, the occupying soldier is “rising up against him.”

        The only true words you write, Lewis, are these three: “All I see.”

        Now, what Lewis writes above is *not* satire, though one would be forgiven for thinking that because it is so contradicted by every solid point Gertel makes. Lewis really means this. This is where most of the public is. From accounts I’ve read and reports from friends, it seems to me Lewis is all too representative. This is their self-justifying, blindingly self-righteous mental world. Yep, that’s it. Really. Thanks for stopping in, Lewis.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          BEN:”As Gertel notes, from the perspective of the Arab attacking a soldier, the occupying soldier is “rising up against him.”

          And from the perspective of the Israeli soldier who did it, he eliminated an enemy who attacked and knifed one of his buddies and who would do such a thing, or worse things again if allowed to recover.

          Hey, I don’t condone what he did but such things are not unique to us. We are fighting an enemy that observes no rules and respects no standards. So some of us lose our heads and we behave as badly as our enemies behave. It feeds on itself.

          Unfortunately, the Bennys of this world seem to think that they can use the occupation as an excuse to allow Arabs to do anything and they expect us to just take it on the chin. That will not happen and it never happened anywhere else in the world where there were occupations by others.

          The Arabs can keep on trying to end the occupation this way or they can seriously try, not just pretend to try to negotiate a peace deal which can end the occupation. It is entirely their choice. And it is also entirely our choice to respond accordingly.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Hey, I don’t condone what he did”

            You just did.

            “We are fighting an enemy that observes no rules and respects no standards”

            Oh? And what rules and humane standards do the army and the settlers observe? This epitomizes mind boggling Israeli entitlement and arrogance, their inside out view of the world. You seem to think your side’s brutality is kosher for some reason.

            “they expect us to just take it on the chin. That will not happen and it never happened anywhere else in the world where there were occupations by others.”

            What is this, the “we deserve to occupy, brutalize and grab land unmolested going on 49 years” rule and standard? “Leave me alone while I molest these people. How dare you?” The Israeli dispensation?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Fact: the Arabs started this behavior.

            In 1929, there was no occupation. There was no Irgun and there was no Israel but the Arabs already carried out a massacre of Jews in Hebron.

            Fact: I did not condone what the soldier did. There was no need for him to execute the terrorist. The fact that he did made him the same as the behavior of the Arabs against us which you Ben, condone under the guise that there is occupation. So what does that make you Benny? It makes you a hypocrite!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Why is the attacker of the soldier a “terrorist”? And why is the soldier who shot the totally disabled attacker not a “terrorist”? And why is what the army does to innocent sleeping families at 2:00 AM in the territories not “terror”?

            “And from the perspective of the Israeli soldier who did it, he eliminated an enemy who attacked and knifed one of his buddies and who would do such a thing, or worse things again if allowed to recover.”

            I read that as condoning. A lot of people would.

            “There was no need for him to execute the terrorist. The fact that he did made him the same as the behavior of the Arabs against us.”

            No.
            1. Attacking an armed combatant is not the same as executing a disabled combatant. The latter is a crime.
            2. This is generalizable to “the Arabs” no more than the soldier’s crime is generalizable to “the Jews.” Time and time again you smear “the Arabs” in a way that you would find appalling if the same smearing technique were applied to “the Jews.” This is a pernicious double standard. In your routine practice, day after day, Arabs are a faceless, menacing horde and Jews are unique, ennobled, individual members comprising a victimized tribe. Leon Uris’ kitsch Exodus was written decades ago but you keep reissuing it. It’s not serious stuff. But you always live in the past. As Bruce Gould memorably said to you, “But do think there will come a time when you step out of your time machine? It’s 2016.”

            Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      Yaron Buki said someone was a coward for saying Zionist instead of Jew. I’ll not make that mistake. But be clear, I could say Jew or Purple Martian and their behavior would still be cowardly for saying they want peace with The Arabs instead of saying they are separatists for racial purity.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        You may or may not be a coward, Average, we don’t know.

        But we DO know that you are a Jew hater. To accuse Jews of creating Israel for racial purity reasons makes you a liar and a Jew hater because I myself explained to you a number of times that modern Zionism was a reaction to racists like yourself who persecuted and murdered Jews for 2000 years. To then accuse us that we are the racists for daring to re-establish our ancestral homeland as a haven to protect ourselves from racists like yourself is nothing short of being perverse.

        Reply to Comment
        • Alex

          “Why don’t you stick your head into an oven, you impotent little Arab cunt?”

          Temper, temper, G, all that impotent jooooooooooooo rage can’t be good for your little amygdala.

          Why don’t you weeeeeeeeeeeeee your little pants again, so you can feel super special and shoot some more blanks?

          Reply to Comment