Minister Bennett Sends Mixed Message on Educational Pluralism

Pledges to be minister for all, but cites only Jewish religious, historical subjects as being important to learn.

Ilan Assayag

At Tuesday’s ceremony marking the beginning of Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s term in office, he said: “I am education minister for everyone: Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, ultra-Orthodox and secular – they are all my children. Parents don’t show preference between children in their love, for me they each one is different but they are all equal.”

Yet the religious and historical figures and subjects he singled out as being important to learn were all Jewish. Education, he said, should aspire to lead every child to “love the homeland, know his heritage, know who Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were, Maimonides, Einstein, S.Y. Agnon and Eli Cohen, and for them to know the Bible and walk the paths of the Land of Israel and its streambeds.”

Bennett also said education involved acceptance of the opinions of others. “Accepting this wonderful gift, that there is someone who is different than me.” But he also claimed this as a Jewish virtue, saying disputes were part of Jewish heritage.

Former education minister Shay Piron did not attend the ceremony, but congratulated Bennett in a Facebook post.

Bennett also said: “We will aspire to every child having an equal starting point, whether he is born in Ra’anana, Kiryat Shmona or Rahat,” referring to a wealthy Tel Aviv suburb, an outlying town and a Negev Bedouin town, respectively. “A child’s chances for success must not, they simply must not, be connected to how much money his parents have.”

Ahead of tomorrow’s matriculation exam in math, Bennett said he viewed the decline reported, from 13,000 to 8,000 in numbers of students taking the highest level math exam, as “a strategic threat against the State of Israel.”

Bennett’s statement, that he believes in “the importance of the stability of the system, measurements and excellence,” could signal that he is closer to the positions of former education minister Gideon Sa’ar, who considered testing very important, than to Piron, who focused on “significant learning,” and sought to limit the control exerted by indices and assessments.

Bennett said children had to learn how to initiate and think. “Our past was in entrepreneurship and our future is in entrepreneurship.”

Toward the close of his remarks, Bennett said he looked forward to working closely with Teacher’s Union secretary-general Yossi Wasserman and Secondary School Teachers Association chairman Ran Erez. “Their success is our success,” he said.

Preceding Bennett’s speech, his newly minted deputy, Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism), said in his speech that he believed in Bennett’s “leadership in deepening Jewish identity, Jewish heritage and love of country.”

Michal Cohen, ministry director general, indicated in her remarks that she is expected to stay on.