Israeli civics teachers say revised textbook not democratic enough

(JTA) – Israeli civics teachers are criticizing a new high school textbook they say emphasizes the country’s Jewishness at the expense of its democratic values.

Israel’s Education Ministry, headed by Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, announced late last month that it would approve the new edition of “Being Citizens in Israel,” according to Haaretz.

The new edition of the textbook, one of three approved for Israeli civics classes but the only one translated into Arabic, will replace one that was published in 2000.

At a meeting Tuesday night, after the ministry officially approved the textbook, members of the Civics Teachers Council complained that they had not been included in the updating process, Ynet reported.

The Academic Forum for Civics Instruction, the Israel Political Science Association and the heads of the education departments in the Arab sectors, all came out against the book, urging teachers not to use it. The new edition also spurred a student petition, with 1,300 signatures so far, asking teachers not to use it.

The debate over the textbook comes at a time when many on Israel’s left say the current government, Israel’s most right wing ever, is undermining the country’s democratic character.

“According to experts who read drafts of the textbook, it presents Israel as a Jewish state, period, and pushes the values of democracy to the margins,” the petition says, according to Ynet. “The principle of the rule of the majority has turned into the tyranny of the majority, and the differences between a citizen and a subject have become blurred. And if that is not enough, the writers are also rewriting reality and ignoring the existence of a Palestinian minority in Israel.”

Assaf Malach, the chairman of the Education Ministry’s Subject Committee, dismissed the criticism, telling Ynet the textbook “has been reviewed by different readers, and hundreds of comments and changes made by people from different positions were taken into consideration.”

No Arab educators were involved in revising the book, and Arab Knesset members and activists are urging Arab schools to boycott it as a result, according to Haaretz.

Tamar Hermann, a professor at Israel’s Open University who a year and a half ago submitted an 11-page letter criticizing a draft she had reviewed, told Haaretz the revised edition represents “a provincial and ethnocentric worldview” that “should have no place among the textbooks of a democratic country.”

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