The Education Ministry has ordered the operators of a Web site promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence to immediately remove the ministry's insignia from its Web page, prompting fears of a censorship campaign by right-wing opponents.
Earlier this week, Zvi Zameret, who serves as chairman of the ministry's pedagogic secretariat, demanded that the Center for Educational Technology remove the official Education Ministry logo from the site of Common Ground - Promoting Education for Democracy and Coexistence.
"We regret the ministry's decision," said Abraham Fund co-executive director Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu. "Civics instruction, particularly education toward coexistence, is not a political topic. It is the Education Ministry's responsibility to teach the citizens of tomorrow to be democratic citizens."
Common Ground was developed as a joint venture by the Center for Educational Technology, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the advancement of education in Israel, and the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which promotes existence. It is funded by both groups.
In recent weeks, right-wing activists have launched a campaign against civics instruction in the education system, particularly lessons linked to issues such as human rights and Arab rights in Israel. As part of the effort, nationalist opponents have sent complaints to the Education Ministry.
Fearing a backlash, the Center for Educational Technology took down material on Palestinian refugees that had been on a Web site with which it is affiliated.
"This is a McCarthyist period we're going through," said a senior official at a non-governmental organization dedicated to civics studies education. "We are beginning to be afraid of publishing any article that can be construed as deviating from official policy."
Common Ground (commonground.cet.ac.il), which is in both Hebrew and Arabic, has been in operation for a year. It offers students and teachers instructional material and guides, lesson plans, articles and short lectures on a range of topics, including democracy and human rights, coexistence and multiculturalism.
The site was developed with input from civics teachers sanctioned by the Education Ministry.
According to a poll released last week, nearly half of Israel's high school students do not believe that Israeli Arabs are entitled to the same rights as Jews in Israel. The same poll revealed that more than half the students would deny Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset.
The findings should be seen as a dire warning "in light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the youth," said an Education Ministry official.
"There is an orchestrated campaign by those on the right against civics studies in general, and everything related to Arabs in particular," said a member of a civics education NGO. "The distress is real, and there is a lot of fear in the area. In the current atmosphere, we're thinking twice before publishing an article or conducting such activities. This is a very sensitive period."
"Instead of the Education Ministry strengthening the study of civics and coexistence, the need of which was laid bare by the poll taken of Israeli high schoolers, the prevailing atmosphere is to limit civics instruction to the procedures of an election or the function of the legislative branch," said the civics education advocate.
Right-wing activists have inundated the Education Ministry with complaints about Web sites run by the Center for Educational Technology since November, when MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said schools were teaching civics in a "leftist" manner. Orlev, who is chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, made the comment during a committee discussion of a working paper submitted by the Institute for Zionist Strategies that said civics instruction in state schools was colored by ideological bias.
One of the complaints the ministry received focused on an essay written by an Arab girl about the Nakba, which was posted on the Web site of Zochrot, an NGO that seeks to raise awareness in Israel of the plight of the Palestinian Arabs in 1948.
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