Israeli civics teachers say revised textbook not democratic enough


(JTA) — Israeli civics teachers say the updated edition of a high school textbook emphasizes the country’s Jewishness at the expense of its democratic values.

At a meeting Tuesday night, after the Education Ministry officially approved the textbook, members of the Civics Teachers Council complained that they had not been included in the revision process for “Being Citizens in Israel,” Ynet reported.

The Academic Forum for Civics Instruction, the Israel Political Science Association and the heads of the education departments in the Arab sectors urged teachers not to use the new edition, one of three approved textbooks for Israeli civics classes but the only one translated into Arabic. A student petition asking teachers not to use the revised book had 1,300 signatures  as of Wednesday.

The debate over the textbook, which is to replace a version published in 2000, comes at a time when many on Israel’s left say the current right-wing government 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, according to Haaretz, and Arab Knesset members and activists are urging Arab schools to boycott it as a result.

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

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