Theodor Herzl
Theodor Herzl Photo by Theodor Herzl
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The Education Ministry's plan for the coming school year does not include civics, democratic values or Jewish-Arab coexistence, according to copies circulated among principals.

It states schools' two main objectives are to reinforce Jewish and Zionist values, and to improve scholastic achievements, and instructs principals how to fulfill these goals.

"This is education for Zionism and Judaism without education for democracy and peace, and it promotes ultra-nationalism," said University of Haifa Prof. Gavriel Solomon, an Israel Prize winner in the field of education.

Although the booklet was sent to school principals about two weeks ago, the Education Ministry said the plan was "preliminary, and the process of combining all the system's programs is not yet complete. The final edition and the schedule for implementation will be published after the Passover holiday."

The authors of the plan say it provides tools needed "to build a work plan, while also putting all of us on the same page," and set 11 goals. The first is to "deepen education for values," which includes a new middle-school program called "the culture and heritage of Israel," as well as classes and field trips aimed at encouraging army service.

Other goals include limiting student violence, improving academic performance, maximizing study time at school, improving the status of teachers and principals, increasing the number of pupils in technological-vocational programs, and promoting a new school computerization plan.

Some school principals expressed consternation over the fact that the plan does not mention educating for democracy or Arab-Jewish coexistence.

"The plan expresses the Education Ministry's agenda, and principals understand that they don't need to invest any effort in spheres not covered by the plan," stated the principal of one Tel Aviv high school. Polls of Israeli youth from the past few years show an increase in racism and anti-democratic attitudes, the principal said. With this in mind, "one might have expected the Education Ministry to set a clear policy of teaching civics and democracy. These subjects' absence from the work plan is very conspicuous, and it's hard to imagine that it is a coincidence."

A survey released two weeks ago found that 60% of Jewish youths aged 15-18 believe "strong" leaders are more important than the rule of law, and 70% believe that when the state's security needs and democratic values conflict, security should win out. In addition, 46% said Arabs should not be allowed to serve in the Knesset, and 50% said they opposed having Arabs live in their neighborhood. The main trend is that Jewish nationalist values were growing stronger, and respect for democratic-liberal values were weakening, concluded the survey-makers.

"If priorities are to be set in education today, they should involve democracy education, and education for cooperation between Jewish and Arabs," said Solomon.