Israel's New Jewish Identity Initiative Based on Fascist Values, Consultant Warns

Jewish Identity Administration names its goal as 'creating of a wave of awareness to strengthen love for the Jewish homeland', but a doctoral student and veteran teacher brought into the planning process says it could spark 'a hostile ideological takeover of Israel’s public education system.'

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A consultant involved in the nascent Jewish Identity Administration has warned government officials of the dangers of its potential work in high schools, arguing that its primary goal is a fascist rather than an educational concept.

Nadav Berman Shifman, a doctoral student at Hebrew University and a veteran high school teacher in Jewish studies, was part of a meeting earlier this month at the offices of the Jewish Identity Administration to formulate recommendations for supporting organizations that are active in Israeli high schools in the field of Jewish studies.

The creation of the administration is anchored in the coalition agreement between the Likud and Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi Party. The administration will sit in the Religious Services Ministry, which Bennett, who is also economy minister, heads.

The primary goal of the nascent Jewish Identity Administration, which will operate in high schools, is the “creation of a wave of awareness to strengthen love for the Jewish homeland, for the Jewish people and for historic Jewish tradition,” according to a document obtained by Haaretz.

This goal is to be obtained through the “creation of a living, meaningful encounter for Jewish youth with the treasures of Jewish thought throughout the generations and with the historical legacy of the Jewish people,” the work plan states.

In a letter Shifman sent to Bennett and Education Minister Shay Piron, he warned of the danger of the Jewish Identity Administration’s activities in high schools. In his letter, he writes that the new body “aspires to operate in Jewish public high schools, to invade the Education Ministry’s area of jurisdiction and to act in a manner that is contrary to the ministry’s spirit.” Moreover, he adds, the administration is promoting a course of action that is extremely nationalistic, perhaps even racist. An extensive examination is required in order to prevent a hostile ideological takeover of Israel’s public education system.”

The work plan for the new body’s “high school task force” presented at the meeting stated that the administration’s goal is “to restore the State of Israel’s Jewish soul” and that one of its practical objectives is the “establishment of an infrastructure of educational and community activities that will focus on the “creation of a living, meaningful encounter for the general public, especially Jewish youth, with the legacy and the traditions of the Jewish people.”

In addition to a “wave of awareness,” the work plan notes that the objectives of the program of the high school task force are “to increase the connection of Jewish youth with social and national values” and “to enable direct contact for Jewish youth with value-related issues in the history of Jewish thought … and to actively integrate the Torah’s wisdom in the everyday lives [of Jewish youth] and of Israeli Jewish society as a whole.”

“The ‘creation of a wave’ is a concept taken from fascism, not from the field of education,” writes Berman Shifman in his letter. “The modus operandi of the Jewish Identity Administration is more an act of underhanded opportunism than a process intended to reflect and shape education.”

The Education Ministry stated on Monday night that no discussion has yet been held with the staff of the Jewish Identity Administration on the subject of activities in Israeli high schools. Attempts to obtain a response from the Religious Services Ministry proved unsuccessful.

The head of the new administration and former IDF chief rabbi, Brigadier General ‏(res.‏) Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, responded that “schools are totally free to decide what external groups they wish to work with, and I am not referring only to religious groups. We want to help these organizations, which, in any event, are already active in the field.”

Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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