Educators Petition Sa'ar Not to Fire Civics Head

Sources relate systematic pressure is exerted by rightists in an attempt to bring about the dismissal

Hundreds of educators have called on Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar to resist right-wing pressure and reject demands for the dismissal of the ministry's head of civics studies.

Teachers, political science academics and civics educators are asking Sa'ar and ministry director general Dalit Shtauber to stand behind the ministry's civics studies coordinator, Adar Cohen, and not succumb to "political pressure from a handful who intend to control the civics teaching agenda and bring about his dismissal."

Sources from both within and outside the Education Ministry relate that intensive, systematic pressure is being exerted by rightists in an attempt to bring about Cohen's dismissal. "The signs are that the oppression is working and Cohen's role will soon come to an end," said a source familiar with the details.

Shtauber is to convene the ministry's civics committee on Sunday. A committee member has indicated that this will be "for protocol only." Some committee members previously asked to meet with Shtauber to discuss the perceived slander thrown at Cohen, in an attempt to influence the decision on his future, but the meeting will only be held on Sunday, very soon before a decision is made.

Two leading figures in the struggle against Cohen are Zvi Zameret, former chairman of the pedagogical secretariat; and Prof. Abraham Diskin, a former committee member and author of a civics study book authorized by the ministry this year.

Over 500 civics teachers recently signed a public petition addressed to Sa'ar. "We, teachers of civics from all the political spectrum, are intimately familiar with Adar Cohen's work," they write. "The contention ... that Cohen promotes teaching that leads to ignorance characterized by post-Zionist slogans indicates a complete misunderstanding of his educational work."

The teachers maintain that "leading the civics field is a complex challenge that demands balancing democratic values and national values. Adar is leading the civics field in a way that demands that we meet this challenge - we ask you [Sa'ar and the ministry's heads] to publicly express your support for him."

A number of political science professors have taken an exceptional public stance against Diskin, who has said that granting Cohen tenure "would be a great educational disaster in which three million students will learn ignorance and post-Zionist slogans."

According to Prof. Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's political science department, "Since April, close to 100 faculty from colleges and universities that teach civics have written to ministry heads and expressed their opinion regarding Cohen's excellent talents. Opposing them is a small handful of faculty members, some of them appointments of Sa'ar to the civics committee. They are working in sophisticated and even obsessive ways to slander Cohen's name. The motive is clear: a desire to change the political agenda of the national civics field."

"His dismissal would mean clear politicization gaining control of the Education Ministry," wrote Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, of the Israel Democracy Institute. "Only someone sworn to a extremist nationalist political outlook regarding Judea and Samaria is considered 'kosher' to be the national coordinator of civics, and maybe most of the other positions in the Education Ministry," he adds. "The senior professional echelons in the ministry cannot allow this to happen. Woe to the education system in Israel if Adar Cohen will be dismissed from his job."