Jerusalem high school students touring Hebron - Tomer Appelbaum - 31012012
Jerusalem high school students touring Hebron on Sunday. The Education Ministry has outsourced responsibility for education to private groups with a blatant political agenda. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has made a mockery of Breaking the Silence. For a year the organization has been pestering him to allow its members to lead junior high school pupils on a tour of Hebron, just like the right-wing non-profit organizations do - and finally he agreed. But before the first student had boarded the first bus the police arrived and cancelled the tour. How surprising.

Sa'ar is a consistent politician with a consolidated worldview, and he was well aware of what he was doing. On the one hand, he really and truly believes that the trips to Jerusalem's City of David, the Cave of the Patriarchs and the museum at Beit Hadassah in Hebron are important milestones in forging the national and Jewish identity of Israeli students. On the other hand, he is aware of and sensitive to the criticism expressed by many parents in his social milieu. They are not at all pleased with the route of the tour. Nor are they pleased about the fact that a private, extreme rightwing non-profit organization, funded by a Jewish millionaire, is in charge of the ideological education of their children - especially in the sensitive and controversial area of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Criticism was also leveled by various groups representing the peace-loving humanistic viewpoint, headed by several human rights organizations. The most energetic among them was Breaking the Silence, which demanded "to balance the picture" by offering its own guided tours in the very same place: the Jewish community in Hebron.

Apparently the Breaking the Silence spokespersons were unaware that they were setting up a trap for themselves. They should have demanded that the Education Ministry put a total stop to outsourcing responsibility for education to private groups with a blatant political vested interest, and that the ministry take exclusive responsibility for the curriculum, including educational trips. But instead Breaking the Silence decided it wanted a piece of the pie. The group demanded that students be exposed not only to the settlers' brainwashing, but to the testimony of soldiers who served in the territories, and that the tour would include not only visits to ancestral graves and listening to descriptions of the horrors of the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron, but also witnessing the abuse of Palestinians and exposure to the injustices of the occupation.

This demand was like a gift handed to Sa'ar. All he had to do was uphold the principle of equality and approve the Breaking the Silence tour as well. From that moment on, sweeping legitimacy was given to any similar demand from any ideological organization - from Elad [the rightwing group that runs the City of David national park] to Kahane Chai, the disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Everyone with his own narrative. Lost among them is the state school system. It has been left like an atrophied organ, whose flimsy remains are being torn apart by various interested parties.

And so, from year to year, Israeli children will participate in experiential tours in Israel and abroad. First they will lift their heads in national pride in the City of David and shed a Jewish tear at the Western Wall, then they will pass among the exhibits that incriminate the Jew-hating rioters in the Beit Hadassah museum and will be convinced that we have to hold on to every furrow of land because "as we know, Esau is the enemy of Jacob." Afterwards they will gather around a charismatic officer who will share with them his moral torments in light of the occupation, and will follow a sensitive guide who will show them how a child in a colorful embroidered skullcap humiliates an elderly Palestinian.

Two years later they will march with a huge Israeli flag in the suburbs of Warsaw, will hate Poles and will swear to take revenge on the Palestinians, but at the end of the year they will meet with an Israeli artist from the Returning to Poland NPO, who exhibits at the biennale in Cracow, and with a representative of the renewed Bund [an early 20th century Jewish socialist movement]. Prior to their army service they will stand at a checkpoint with the women of MachsomWatch and will go out for an experiential day of training in the field with the former commander of a counter-terrorism undercover unit, who has built a cultural center in the outpost of Migron. And all this time their teachers won't discuss politics, because it's forbidden to do so in school.

Until now the process of abandoning the educational system to extremist political groups has proceeded with relative caution. Now the door is wide open for them - thanks to Breaking the Silence. Never mind. In any case these children will be drafted, will be welcomed to the army by the rabbi of the base, who will blow the shofar in their honor. It's better if they're prepared.

Read this article in Hebrew