Israeli Schools Belittle Historical Role of Mizrahi Jewry, Former Official Says

In letter to Education Minister Sa'ar, chairperson of Women's Council for Tunisia Jewry says curriculum still presents a distorted view, emphasizes history of European Jews.

Revital Blumenfeld
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Revital Blumenfeld

The Israeli public education system misrepresents the role of Jews of Middle Eastern descent, the chairperson of Women's Council for Tunisia Jewry said in a letter to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar this week, urging the state to correct what she calls a years-long discrimination of Mizrahi Jews.

"The educational system still presents a distorted state of affairs, one that does not reflect the historical developments and Zionist movements working within the Middle Eastern Jewish community," wrote Miriam Gez-Avigal, a former Education Ministry official in charge of incorporating Mizrahi heritage in Tel Aviv schools.

Elementary school students in class at the ORT school in Givat Ram Oct. 22 2010Credit: Daniel Bar-On

In her letter, Gez-Abigal writes that "the reality is right now, that students know and are familiar with historical issues taking place in Europe, but don't know anything about what happened, in the context of those same issues, among Middle Eastern Jewry."

Further on in her letter, the former Education Ministry official said that conflicts that took place between Jewish religious leaders and the Zionist movements in Europe are depicted as absolute historical facts, without any mention of the reverse phenomenon which was taking place among Mizrahi Jews.

"Today, students don't study at all about the important and essential contribution of the rabbinical leadership in Middle Eastern countries which aided the relocation of Jewish communities in the Diaspora and brought them to Israel as one unit," she added, saying that the it was those spiritual leaders and intellectuals which drove Jews in Tunisia, Iraq, Morocco, Syria, Persia, Afghanistan, and other places to make aliyah.

In addition, Gez-Avigal said that, contrary to what current textbooks state, Mizrahi Jews did not make aliyah as a result of financial difficulties, but to build the land of Israel, even though they could have emigrated anywhere else.

The former Education Ministry official added that even though Middle Eastern Jewry constitutes less than 20 percent of Jews around the world, it represented more than 50 percent of Israel's Jewish population, making its place in history books that much more justified.

"I'm angry because even if they're mentioned in a sentence here and there, the immense contribution of Middle Eastern Jewry to Zionism and the formation of the State of Israel is unrepresented."

The Education Ministry denied Gez-Avigal's claim, indicating that a whole chapter devoted to Mizrahi Jewry is included in the junior high curriculum, adding that the chapter – titled Zionist Activity in the Muslim Nations during the Second World War and the Great Aliyahs, 1948-1968 – includes the history of the Middle Eastern Jewish community, including those nations' Zionist efforts.

"The issue is also mentioned in the chapter Minorities in Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, and the Muslim Nations, as well as in the chapter 'Building the State of Israel in the Middle East.'"

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