As Schools Remember Rabin, Teachers Describe Rising Hatred

'Most students said Rabin did terrible things – like planning to give the Arabs all of Israel,' one teacher who took part in school activities in memory of the slain Prime Minister says.

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Participants in the alternative Rabin memorial rally in Tel Aviv, November 8 2014.
Participants in the alternative Rabin memorial rally in Tel Aviv, November 8 2014.Credit: David Bachard

Teachers who took part in school activities in memory of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin say they feel helpless in the face of students’ racism and hatred of leftists. They say these sentiments have only increased after the Gaza war this summer.

Teachers say the Education Ministry’s lesson plans for the Rabin memorial day last week don’t put his murder into context and fail to address its significance.

“Most students said Rabin did terrible things – like planning to give the Arabs all of Israel, including Jerusalem, but that he didn’t deserve to die,” says Yifat, a high-school teacher in a northern city who discussed Rabin in a number of classes last week.

“But in every class there were three or four kids who said Rabin was a traitor and his murder was justified. When I told them President Reuven Rivlin ... speaks about equal rights for Israel’s Arabs, some of them said that apparently he should be murdered too.”

Yifat is troubled by “the Education Ministry’s lack of desire to deal with reality, as indicated by the gap between the ministry’s lesson plans and the actual lessons.” She is also concerned about the teachers’ fears and indifference; she says they haven’t received appropriate training to deal with the memorial event.

The slain Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

Students, of course, often reflect the political views of their parents and community. But teachers say the hatred has worsened following the war, and things that were previously whispered are now said out loud.

“The war legitimized talk of ‘treason,’” Yifat says. “Students have no problem saying in class that leftists are traitors, just as Rabin was a traitor, and they [leftists] should get out of here.”

Like other teachers interviewed for this story, she asked not to be identified, fearing the reaction of her students and school.

“Students frequently say things like ‘Arabs are dogs’ and ‘all the Arabs want to kill us.’ But when the discussion begins you discover that many students have no desire or patience to learn anything about history, civics or geography. They simply recite the slogans they hear at home or on television,” Yifat says.

Ruth, who teaches in the south, says some teens were surprised by “the coincidence that Rabin was murdered in Rabin Square.” They said “this proves he got what he deserved.”

Others said “anyone who gives Arabs rights deserves to die” and “Rabin was murdered because he was a leftist and we should have more people who think like Yigal Amir,” Rabin’s assassin.

Ahead of the Rabin memorial day, the Education Ministry issued lesson plans that contained no information about the events leading up to the murder and did not mention Amir. The ministry prefers lesson plans that craft a comprehensive program for fighting racism and strengthening democracy.

The plans “invite the children, who weren’t born when Rabin was murdered, into a vague collective memory consisting mainly of feelings, with less discussion about the murder’s meaning,” says a history teacher from a junior high school in the central region. “The students can’t really understand what the sadness is about and why they’re being shown a film of people crying.”

Shai, a civics teacher from the central region, believes the emphasis on feeling is part of the ministry’s message for teachers to steer clear of politics and controversial issues.

“It’s not surprising that many teachers are scared. It’s perfectly natural ....Teachers feel threatened that [controversy] will lead to an explosion. The result is a shallow discussion in which students say Rabin was weak and that’s why he died. Or that it’s his fault for not wearing a bulletproof vest,” he says.

“Almost nobody makes the connection between incitement and violence – neither 19 years ago nor today. Nobody says everything around us is burning. The main thing is to go on teaching as though nothing’s happening.”

Nir teaches history in the Tel Aviv area. In a bid to adopt a more challenging approach, he opened with the three teens who were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank and continued with the retaliation murder of Mohammed Khdeir. He told the class that after the Palestinian teen’s murder, the mother of one of the three Israeli teens said “there’s no difference between [Arab] blood and [Jewish] blood.”

One of the students uttered rude things about her and wouldn’t stop until he was sent out of the classroom.

Many religious schools ignore the Rabin memorial day, although the law says state schools must mark the day and flags must be lowered to half-mast. Discussions must be dedicated to the importance of democracy and the danger of violence to the state and society.

The ministry apparently knows that many schools flout the law. “If anyone in the ministry cared, they’d send inspectors to the religious schools to make sure they kept the law,” says Na’ama, a teacher.

The Education Ministry, for its part, said it “encourages schools to hold an open, respectable discussion on every issue, including Rabin’s murder.” It said the lesson plans “were written with the Yitzhak Rabin Center.”

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