Civics Teachers Slam 'Smear Campaign' Against Education Ministry Supervisor

More than 550 teachers have signed a petition in support of Adar Cohen, who has been the subject of criticism in the media.

Hundreds of civics teachers around the country have mobilized in support of the Education Ministry's supervisor of civics instruction, against an alleged campaign to oust him from his job.

More than 550 teachers have signed a petition in support of Adar Cohen, who has been the subject of criticism in the media, much of which centers on a controversial civics textbook.

Education Ministry’s supervisor of civics instruction Adar Cohen.
David Bachar

This afternoon, the chairman of the Knesset's Education, Culture and Sports Committee, MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu ), will hold a discussion on civics instruction in the Education Ministry. Miller is known to favor Cohen's removal.

The first step in what Cohen's supporters regard as a smear campaign conducted in the media by his opponents involved a report in the Makor Rishon journal. Subsequent critical pieces were published in Israel Hayom and Maariv newspapers. These articles criticize Cohen in general, and specifically target a civics textbook that was published last summer.

The former chairman of the ministry's pedagogical department, Dr. Zvi Zameret, was the first to criticize this book, called "Starting Out in Citizenship." Shortly before he left his position in the ministry, Zameret delivered a lecture to a group of civics teachers and praised a rival textbook written by Prof. Avraham Diskin. Zameret said: "You should know that the person who authorized the book was... Adar Cohen."

Zameret read aloud a section from the approved book, which states that "there is a contradiction between Jewish tradition, which is founded upon claims of divine revelation, and the values of democracy, which are a human creation."

Subsequently an array of claims were leveled against the textbook. These included the way it relates to the Goldstone report on Israel Defense Forces actions during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in winter 2008-2009, to right-wing violence in Israel, and to its depiction of immigration from the former Soviet Union.

"We are teachers of civics and are witnessing this campaign against the civics supervisor," states the petition in support of Cohen. "Time after time unsubstantiated accusations have been made about his activities. We want to state in a unified, clear voice: A public discussion about the way civics is taught is legitimate, but the smear campaign against Mr. Adar Cohen is not acceptable. Cohen is a worthy professional. We respect his work, and hold it to be a stellar example of an approach of tolerance in civics instruction."

Immediately after the publication of the first article critical of Cohen, coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ) tried to initiate a discussion in the Knesset's Education, Culture and Sports Committee, but Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar managed to delay this discussion.

The Education Ministry, under Sa'ar's direction, has refrained from responding to this controversy. Sa'ar has been careful not to reinforce or refute accusations leveled by Zameret about the textbook.

Complaints against Cohen have been submitted to the Civil Service Commission. Sources in the Education Ministry suggest that Diskin spurred the lodging of these complaints.

In the meantime, Cohen wrote to civics teachers, saying: "I hope we will soon get past this ugly wave." Cohen claimed that controversy over the textbook focused on one sentence: "There is a dispute about the way in which historical events surrounding the state's establishment should be presented, and this argument divides elements in Israel." He said that this disputed sentence has now been revised.