Gideon Sa’ar - Muki Schwartz - February 2012
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar during a visit to the Gush Katif Museum in Jerusalem last week. Photo by Muki Schwartz
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“This lesson unit seeks to set aside political engagement over the issue of Gush Katif and the disengagement plan and to use the story of settling the bloc, which began on the 22nd of Shevat, 5737 ‏(1976-77‏), as a means of addressing the question, ‘What is Zionism’ in 2012.”

That is the introduction to the “My Zionism” lesson unit in the “Gush Katif Day” curriculum package. The lesson unit, approved by and written in accordance with Education Ministry guidelines, was taught in hundreds of schools throughout Israel last week.

The idea of using the Katif Bloc as a test case for Zionism, wrapped in directives to teachers such as “Expand upon the important role of the religious commandment to settle the Land of Israel as a Zionist motive,” is not surprising in light of the current mood in the Education Ministry and the man leading it. On Wednesday, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar even toured the Gush Katif Museum in Jerusalem. According to the press release issued by the museum, Sa’ar was “clearly moved” and “teared up on more than one occasion.”

The statement went on to say that Sa’ar stressed that because “perpetuating the legacy of Gush Katif is mandatory for all of Israeli society,” his ministry has made it a priority to make Gush Katif Day part of the school curriculum. “There will not be another evacuation” of settlers, Sa’ar said at the museum. “Everyone saw the difficult results and learned the lesson from Gush Katif.”

The Center for Commemoration of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria Law was ratified by the Knesset in July 2008. Since then the curriculum had been taught in some schools, but it was not until two months ago that a director general’s circular, which has the force of a directive, was issued to all schools in the country. The circular refers schools to the Gush Katif Legacy Center, which supply the curriculum packages.

According to the center, 800 curriculum kits have been supplied to 770 schools: 695 “regular” state schools and 75 state-religious schools. The number of schools commemorating Gusk Katif Day doubled in the past two years.

The kits contain items such as a card game in which players are asked to differentiate between Zionist and non-Zionist actions. “Stress that an act does not have to be ‘anti-Zionist’ or contradictory to Zionism in order to be classified as ‘non-Zionist,’” the teachers’ instructions state. “Present the story of settling Gush Katif as one of the possible responses to the question, ‘How is Zionism carried out,’ stopping before the fight [against the 2005 disengagement] and the disengagement.”

Among the actions the students are asked to sort into “Zionist” and “non-Zionist” are such things as going abroad for a post-doctorate, “significant” army service, a long post-army trip abroad and participating in the March of the Living.

“Not every ‘good deed’ can be considered ‘Zionist,’ the instructions state, preceded by the word “Important!” in bold type for emphasis. “Volunteering for a human rights mission to Africa, for example, is a moral, altruistic act that could be considered Zionist if the volunteer emphasizes their national origin and represents their country, but is not necessarily [a Zionist act].”

Another activity, “Zionist or not?” involves dividing the class into groups, distributing various readings and asking the students to write a statement that expresses Zionism according to the author of the text selection. The authors include Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook, considered the father of religious Zionism; Israel Prize laureate A.B. Yehoshua, Labor MK Eitan Cabel and Im Tirtzu founder Ronen Shoval.

The latter’s reading selection is taken from “Im Tirtzu − A Manifesto for a Renewed Zionism.” After reading the passage, students are asked to characterize Shoval’s Zionism and also to answer the question, “What are the two layers of the new Zionism according to Ronen Shoval?”

The teacher’s guide states, “Ronen Shoval views Zionism as an action of consciousness and not necessarily an actual act: He believes that Zionism does not end with building the Jewish society in the State of Israel, but also includes reinforcing belief in the rightness of the path, public persuasion and defending the image and soul of the state.”

Sa’ar was a keynote speaker at an Im Tirtzu conference held two years ago, at which he praised the organization’s activities on Israeli university campuses and expressed his admiration for what he characterized as “expressing an authentic public mood ... I basically came to say two words: Kol Hakavod ‏(“way to go,” loosely translated‏).”

The teachers’ guide goes on to describe the movement as “a story that grew and developed out of a belief in the commandment to settle the land − the same goal that led the Zionist movement from its very beginning. The very act of living on the land, rather than immigrating to an ‘easier’ place, can be considered on its own as a Zionist act.”