Israeli Teachers Fear Civics Textbook Biased by Right-wing Reviewer

There is only one academic adviser reviewing changes to primary civics textbook, and no Arab input.

The Civics Teachers Council is demanding that another academic adviser be appointed to review changes being made to the primary high school civics textbook, saying that the only person to review the revisions to date has known right-wing views and that this could result in a biased text.

“Because of the sensitivity of the subject and the utmost importance of having a varied, complex and in-depth presentation of various views so that the diverse groupings in Israeli society will be able to identify with what is written in [the textbook], we believe it is crucial that another academic adviser be appointed whose worldview differs from that of the current adviser,” the teachers wrote to the Education Ministry’s acting head civics inspector, Eliraz Kraus. “The breadth of the knowledge field of civics also requires more than one academic adviser.”

“At the same time, we request that teachers be allowed to read and comment on the drafts of the chapters,” the teachers wrote. “This was the practice during the first stages of the writing of the book, but for some reason it was stopped.”

The protest -- on which the Education Ministry refused to comment because, it said, the complaints are “based on fears, not on hard facts” -- comes in response to the revision of “To Be Citizens in Israel,” which the Education Ministry decided to rewrite after government officials said some parts were no longer relevant and were too critical of the state.

Because this is the only textbook that will be translated into Arabic, and because the council had received complaints from Arab teachers about the revised chapters already translated, the teachers suggested that it would also be proper to appoint an Arab academic adviser “who could present the perspective of Arab society.”

No Arabs are involved in revising the chapters in question, although the chapter on Arab society in Israel in the original textbook had been written by an Israeli Arab political scientist, Asad Ghanem of the University of Haifa. This chapter had been singled out for criticism in the past by the Institute for Zionist Strategies, a right-leaning think tank with which the textbook’s current academic adviser is affiliated.

The adviser appointed to oversee the changes is Aviad Bakshi, a constitutional law professor at Bar-Ilan University, the University of Haifa and Ono Academic College. Bakshi had previously been an adviser to MKs in the last Knesset who proposed making the state’s democratic character subordinate to its Jewish one.

Bakshi has a position paper posted on the website of the Institute for Zionist Strategies in which he calls for the passage of a Basic Law that establishes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The institute has also published papers critical of civics studies as being too left-wing.

In recent years, civics studies have become a political flashpoint, with each side claiming the other is trying to control too much of the study material so as to indoctrinate the nation’s youth. The teachers expressed their incredulity that only a single academic adviser had been appointed to review controversial text revisions in such a contentious subject, especially after a different textbook had been disqualified due to claims that it was too partisan.

Kraus, in her response to the teachers, said she sees “no reason to appoint academic advisers based on their opinions,” adding that having two advisers would lead to substantial delays in an already lengthy process.

She added that after the draft text is finished, additional voices will be heard.

“In the process of evaluating civics textbooks there is a legal evaluator and an evaluator from the field of political science, and then I will make sure that the evaluator brings additional perspectives and emphases in the reading and comments,” she said. “However, under the regulations the names of the textbook evaluators cannot be released, so that they can work in a businesslike fashion, free from various pressures, and so it will be this time.”

In their letter, the teachers also protested the fact that no permanent chief civics inspector has been appointed every since the previous inspector, Adar Cohen, was removed from the post over a year ago. On this matter the teachers also sent a letter to Education Minister Shay Piron, noting that 2013-14 is the second academic year without a permanent civics inspector, and said this “generates concern that the subject is not being given its proper regard.”

The Education Ministry said Piron “is not content with the situation, and he is working to fill the post by publishing an expedited tender.”