The Education Ministry is actively supporting a privately-sponsored essay contest on Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky and urging students to participate in it.
The contest was organized by an Israeli group called Misdar Jabotinsky, which is devoted to increasing knowledge of Jabotinsky's ideas, and Americans For A Safe Israel. AFSI, a right-of-center American organization with both Jewish and Christian members, put up NIS 120,000 in prize money.
The prizes will be awarded by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin in another six months.
In a circular issued this week, the ministry noted that this year marks the 130th anniversary of Jabotinsky's birth and the 70th anniversary of his death, and in honor of these anniversaries, an essay contest on the prestate Revisionist leader will be held for high school students. The Revisionist movement is the forebear of today's Likud party.
"Teachers are asked to encourage their students to take part in the contest and assist them in studying for and writing their papers," the circular said.
Contestants can choose on one of five topics. These include "The individual and the nation in Jabotinsky's thought," "Social reform according to Jabotinsky," and "Jabotinsky, builder of Hebrew military power."
Ministry officials said yesterday that for the ministry to cooperate in this manner with the initiative of a private political organization was, until recently, very unusual. But this week, Sa'ar awarded prizes in another competition - this one in memory of 12 prestate underground fighters hanged by the British - that was also organized in conjunction with two rightist organizations, the Uri Zvi Greenberg Heritage House and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.
Before this year, the officials added, the education system had not held any essay contests on historical personages at all for several years.
The size of the prizes, they said, is also unusual: In each of the five topics, the author of the first-place essay will get NIS 10,000 and the second- and third-place finishers will get NIS 2,000 and NIS 1,000, respectively. In addition, schools will be judged on the quantity and quality of their students' submissions, with the top two schools getting prizes of NIS 35,000 and NIS 20,000, respectively.
Prof. Anita Shapira, a leading historian of Zionism, said that since this contest focuses on a particular political faction in prestate history, she would have expected the ministry to give equal time to other prestate factions.
Another leading historian concurred. "There's nothing wrong with writing an essay about Jabotinsky," he said. "But the crucial question is the context. In the history curriculum, Jabotinsky is mentioned alongside other figures. But in this contest, the broader context will be pushed to the margins."
AFSI, according to its Web site, was founded as "an American counterpart to the Land of Israel movement, which asserted Israel's right - historic, religious and legal - to the territories won in the 1967 war," and currently serves as "a major political support group for the Jewish communities" of these areas. It also has a Hebrew-language Web site, called Dai, Maspik ("Enough Already"), which argues against territorial concessions in general and criticizes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's diplomatic policy in particular.
The Education Ministry responded that "the essay competition is a welcome initiative, and there have been similar events in the past. We would be happy to hold similar contests on key Zionist figures from various historical streams."
According to the organizers, the last major essay contest on Jabotinsky was held in 1982. In that contest, second prize went to none other than today's education minister, Gideon Sa'ar.
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