The marketing people of the Center for Educational Technology (CET) tried this week to gauge whether the scandal surrounding a textbook that mentions the Nakba would help its sales. Maybe not, but let's hope it will. "Living Together in Israel," by Ophira Gal and Shira Goodman, is a very good book, perhaps a final attempt to save Israeli society from itself, beginning in third grade. The intention of the book's creators is to inculcate political awareness and social involvement, sensitivity to the fundamentals of democracy and tolerance, human and civil rights and sexual equality, and basic responsibility for the environment. The chapter about Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is less than successful, both in Hebrew and in Arabic.
The political scandal that erupted this week revolved around one sentence in the Arabic version: "The Arabs call the war 'Nakba,' that is, a war of disaster and loss, while the Jews call it the 'War of Independence.'" The true scandal lies in the fact that this sentence is not included in the version intended for Jewish students, as though the Nakba is merely part of Arab village folklore. Jewish students who use CET textbooks will come across the term for the first time in ninth grade.
Arab children learn too little about the history of Zionism from the book. They are not allowed to know that according to Israel's Declaration of Independence, the state is open to Jewish immigration, as that sentence was deleted from the Arabic version. The Holocaust is mentioned in the Arabic book only in a photo caption. On the other hand, Arab children learn about the persecution of Jews abroad as one of the reasons for the birth of the Zionist idea. That is correct. The Jews learn about Zionism only within the context of European nationalism, and while that may sit well with political correctness, it is not correct.
The Arab students learn what a homeland is. "A homeland is the place where a person is born and where he lives, or the place where his ancestors were born, or the place he feels he belongs to, which is his home. Israel is our homeland." Not, that is, Palestine. In Hebrew there is no explicit renunciation of the West Bank, but the homeland is identified with the State of Israel, not the Land of Israel. There are no territories, apart from East Jerusalem and Mount Hermon, which were annexed to Israel, and a boy named Maor who is said to live in Alon Shvut, in the West Bank, as though that settlement were like any other Israeli community. All the rest is bounded by the Green Line, as it used to be: There is no occupation, no Palestinians. Political correctness in a bubble. The Hebrew also lacks the following, which appears in the Arabic version: "The Arabs call this country Palestine and the Jews call it the Land of Israel." The Arabs must understand that "each side believed in its rightness." The Jews do not have to understand that Arab rightness also exists.
In the Hebrew book, the Zionists brought progress and even founded a theater. As for the Arabs, most are said to have lived in villages and earned their living from farming. The Arabic version expands on life in Arab cities, including Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa. Jewish children are apparently not allowed to know about this, perhaps because at the end of 67 pages of education for political correctness they are liable to identify with those urban Arabs and ask what happened to them.
The answer: "Some of the Arab residents fled or were expelled from their homes and became refugees. The Arab residents who stayed on to live in the new state became citizens of the country." That is not the whole truth, so it is worse than a lie. The "some" constituted a large majority of the Arab population, and the Arabs who remained in Israel did not become citizens with equal rights.
In Arabic, too, the refugees are described as "some" of the population: "Some of the Arab residents were compelled to leave their homes and some were expelled, and they became refugees in the neighboring Arab states. The majority of the Arabs who remained in the country stayed in their communities, but some of them became refugees and were compelled to move to other Arab communities within Israel, because their villages were destroyed during the war and afterward." That is more accurate, but it appears that Arab students, too, are not allowed to know everything - for example, that there were Arabs who were not heroes and who "fled." The Arab teachers are obviously expected to be able to explain the difference between "were compelled to leave" and "were expelled."
At this point, the Arabic version adds information about the military rule and the expropriation of land that does not appear in the Hebrew version. Such are the limitations of political correctness: Instead of telling the Jewish children the ugly truth, we send them with a kind of subversive wink to search for material on the Internet about several places, among them Kafr Kassem. So the book would benefit from some improvements, and it also contains mistakes. The Hebrew version will have to be reprinted in any event: It contains a photograph of former president Moshe Katsav - that may be suitable for the ninth grade but definitely not for the third.
Meanwhile, back in Washington
The Congressional Human Rights Caucus, headed by Representative Tom Lantos, this week heard testimony about the bitter fate of Jews in Arab states and how they were expelled from their homes after Israel's establishment. The hearing was connected to a draft law that would require the president to instruct every administration official to mention the Jewish refugees whenever they talk or write about the Arab refugees. The initiative, which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, is considered "pro-Israeli." In fact, it is a two-edged sword that could, theoretically, reverse the course of history: Let the Palestinian refugees return to their homes, let the Jews return to the Arab states and everything will be hunky-dory. Apparently no one today is claiming that the Jews from Arab states found a warm home in Israel.
Between Manila and Rishon Letzion
A few hundred Filipinos, most of them home health aides, recently held a benefit at a Jaffa banquet hall to create a local monument to honor efforts in their home country to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. This moving story is not widely known: Over 1,000 Jews, most of them from Germany, found refuge in the Philippines from the war. Ironically, the Holocaust pursued them all the way there, in the form of the Japanese, but they survived.
The president of the Philippines at the time, Manuel Quezon, welcomed the Jewish refugees. Like Yekkes - Jews of German origin - elsewhere, the Yekkes of Manila tried to maintain their German way of life. One of them, Max Weissman, now lives in Hod Hasharon. He was 11 when the family arrived in Manila. At home they spoke German, in the street he learned the local language, which he still speaks today. Now 77, he remains in touch with the Philippines and is involved in the monument project. It will be erected in Memorial Garden in Rishon Letzion, not far from an avenue that honors the Righteous Gentiles.
Junyee, a Filipino artist, won the design competition for the monumemt. "Open Doors" is to be an eight-meter-high work consisting of three open doors made of iron on a marble plinth. The work can also express the gratitude that so many Israelis owe to Filipino workers who take such devoted care of their parents.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now