cohen - Tomer Appelbaum - June 9 2011
Asher Cohen at the Jerusalem Conference on March 15, 2011. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Several weeks after terminating Prof. Yedidia Stern's position as head of the civics committee at the Education Ministry, the head of the pedagogical secretariat at the ministry, Dr. Zvi Zameret, has appointed a successor: Bar-Ilan political scientist Prof. Asher Cohen, another member of the committee and a fellow at the Institute of Zionist Strategy.

Cohen told Haaretz he saw his appointment as part of an ideological move, and added that he only agreed to it after he was sure Stern was not going to return to the post.

Although the official reason for termination of Stern's post was that his term had ended, Stern himself wrote the director general of the ministry, Shimshon Shoshani, that he was being replaced because of his opposition to changes made by Zameret in the school system's civics curriculum. Stern's post was terminated together with that of another committee member, Prof. Suzie Navot.

Stern wrote that Zameret told the committee he wants to reshape the curriculum to include more of an emphasis on Zionist history and the history of the state. The proposal was rejected by the committee, Stern wrote.

"Accepting it would mean reducing the hours dedicated to civics by half," he wrote. "This would be a profound change, necessitating the exclusion of extremely important civics issues from the curriculum."

Cohen told Haaretz he had similar ideas to those of Zameret, including the decision to rewrite the civics textbooks, and adding that he accepts the general spirit of the criticism leveled by the Institute of Zionist Strategies. The organization has recently criticized the "damage" done to "Zionist, patriotic education, education for democracy and critical thinking, and to chances to reduce the tension between various parts of Israeli society."

Cohen said the liberal supporters of democracy are trying to suppress the Jewishness of the state as part of an effort to force Israel to become a state of all its citizens.

"My approach is one of balance. If you present three concepts of a state - theocratic, ethnocratic or a state of all its citizens - I'm opposed to any of them. I want to combine and balance all of them," Cohen explained.

He noted, however, that he would reject cutting hours from civics studies, and said if he received such a directive from Zameret, he would resign.