Beginning this September, Jewish nursery and kindergarten teachers will be required to open the week with the raising of the Israeli flag and the singing of "Hatikva," in accordance with new directives issued by the Education Ministry.

The preschool teachers will also be required to teach the children the state symbols once a week.

The directives state that by next Independence Day, "All the children will know the words to the national anthem."

According to the Education Ministry, the directives will not be implemented in the Arab sector.

"We are conducting discussions in the Preschool Department to see how we can adapt [the directives] to this sector," the ministry said.

The new instructions, first reported Wednesday by Maariv, include an "output index" that will be the responsibility of the Pedagogical Authority, which relates to the number of preschool teachers dealing with the national symbols in every district.

The new directives are part of the ministry's plan for the coming school year, which was sent to all school principals in April. The ultimate goals of the plan are to strengthen the pupils' Jewish and Zionist values, and to improve their scholastic achievements. The plan does not refer to education toward democracy or citizenship.

"It looks like a competition between members of the Likud to see who can push us faster into the arms of fascism," said Prof. Gabi Solomon of the University of Haifa, an Israel Prize laureate for education.

"There's definitely a place for Zionist education for Jews," Solomon said. "But it has to be balanced by democratic values. We are a Jewish and democratic state and without this balance even the best of intentions sound chauvinistic."

Y., a kindergarten teacher in the Tel Aviv area, said she didn't think teachers would implement the directives.

"I'm certain that no teacher will even know about this," she said. "Even the most diligent teachers read until page 7 of the pamphlet of directives; no one will get to page 11."

"Even though it obligates us, nobody bothers asking us about it," she continued. "In any case, I have no way of raising a flag, because I don't have a flagpole.

"In the past they tried to do something like this and it didn't go over," Y. said. "I know that in Binyamina there was a kindergarten that tried something like this two years ago, and the parents just rebelled. They started bringing their kids late in the morning on purpose."

Prof. Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, scoffed at the initiative.

"They are doing an injustice to the State of Israel and to Jewish identity by starting this only in kindergarten," Ezrahi said. "They should start in the maternity wards.

"Instead of wrapping the babies in a white sheet, they should wrap them in an Israeli flag, and hang Israeli flags over every bassinet, and make sure that in the delivery room they play 'Hatikva' in the background," Ezrahi said.

The new directives are part of a series of initiatives launched by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar aimed at strengthening pupils' Jewish and Zionist identity. These have included "adopting" a grave of a fallen soldier, school visits to Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Israeli Journey program sponsored by the Bereshit association headed by Rabbi Motti Elon, and expanding visits to Jerusalem, with a stress on the City of David.

Sa'ar has also instructed schools to increase their cooperation with the IDF, and officers are invited to motivate both teachers and pupils.

Last year, the ministry introduced a new subject to the state schools' curriculum called Jewish Heritage and Culture, taught in grades six through eight for two hours weekly. The class teaches about the Jewish calendar and "the Jewish people's link to the Land of Israel."

The Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education said yesterday it saw the new directives as "part of a growing trend of inculcating nationalistic and militaristic values, while ignoring the need to grapple with the increasing racism among Jewish pupils."