Most of the Jewish public supports education for peace and thinks that the school system needs to provide it before a political accomodation is reached with the Palestinians. That is only one of the results of a survey presented Wednesday at a day-long seminar at Tel Aviv University.
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Alongside the somewhat surprising support for the need to present students with the Palestinian narrative about the conflict, most of the respondents of the survey said that the job of the school system is to inculcate Jewish and Zionist values in the students without criticism, according to Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University, one of the conference architects. That stance resembles the “positive attitude in principle that the Jewish public shows towards democracy, which comes to an abrupt end when we’re talking about giving equal rights to Arabs who are citizens of the State of Israel.”
The seminar dealt with the extent to which the school system should – and can – teach peace, a topic that teachers and principals are loath to touch. The reasons are many and varied: the fear of negative student (or parent) responses, the need to take a stance on divisive issues or messages from on-high that dealing with the issue is just as undesirable today as it was during the tenure of Gideon Sa’ar, the previous education minister.
The survey was conducted about a week ago by Hamidgam Project Ltd. among some 500 respondents using an online questionnaire. The sample is representative of the country’s Jewish population.
The results of the survey indicate that 82.5 percent of the public agrees that teaching openness and critical thinking must be a major goal of the school system, while 71.3 percent oppose the assertion that it is necessary to wait with such education “as long as the conflict with the Palestinians is unresolved, in order not to undercut our position.”
A similar number, 72.9 percent, believes that Israel and the Palestinian Authority must coordinate their tuition, in order to present the other side in a more positive light and to begin teaching for peace before an agreement is reached. In addition, 67.9 percent are convinced that the school system should regularly arrange meetings between Jews and Arabs as part of the curriculum.
As for the required content, 64.5 percent of the respondents agree with the notion that the Palestinian narrative should be introduced to the students. Similarly, 60.2 percent are opposed to the ban on teaching “the events connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict showing the Jews in a negative light”; 51 percent believe that the school system must present information describing Palestinian culture and society favorably in an attempt to expand knowledge about them.
Alongside positions that support teaching for peace and coexistence, 65.5 percent of the respondents believe that the school system must “teach Jewish and Zionist values without taking a critical stance.” An example of this may be seen in the civics exam given a few weeks ago in a high school in central Israel, in which the students were asked to answer the following question: “A Jewish NGO, whose objective is to strengthen the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, wanted to hold a prayer service on Jerusalem Day [commemorating the day on which the IDF conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War] at the entrance to the Temple Mount. On what right was the NGO’s intention to hold the prayer service based? Discuss and explain.” The question was presented and discussed in the context of a conference held by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Dirasat, the Arab Center for Law and Policy, on civics education in Israel.
The survey also showed that 81.1 percent oppose the idea of “teaching the younger generation that Judea and Samaria are not a part of the State of Israel,” and 89.6 percent feel that the Palestinian school system incites violence and teaches intolerance towards Jews and Israel.
The questions in the survey also touched on the lessons one can learn from history. They showed that, on the one hand, 56.8 percent are opposed to the school system presenting Jewish history as an unceasing chain of attacks against Jews and the Jews as victims, while, on the other hand, 57.2 percent support the idea that “the main lesson of the Holocaust is that we can only rely on ourselves and must not to hesitate to use force without taking the opinion of other nations into consideration.”
According to Prof. Bar-Tal, “it was surprising to discover that, at present, the majority of the public thinks that the school system should present the Palestinian narrative of the conflict, in contradiction to the country’s leaders. In recent years, the Education Ministry has rejected textbooks that tried to present both narratives, and every time some right-wing politician thought that Jewish schoolchildren were exposed to a different narrative, he or she would raise a hue and a cry, to the extent that one couldn’t utter the word “nakba” [“disaster” in Arabic, referring to the establishment of Israel.]”
“It would seem that the public is more open to the Palestinian narrative that some of its political leaders,” Bar-Tal concluded.