Battle Over Civics Ends in Ouster of Two Critics

Prof. Yedidia Stern says real reason she was relieved of her role as the Education Ministry's chairman of its professional advisory committee on civics, is that she opposes changes being pushed by the ministry's pedagogical secretariat.

The Education Ministry recently fired the chairman of its professional advisory committee on civics, Prof. Yedidia Stern, along with another panel member, Prof. Suzie Navot.

The official reason was that their terms had ended. But in a letter to the ministry's director general, Shimshon Shoshani, Stern charged that "only a fool would believe this explanation."

The real reason, he claimed, was the committee's opposition to changes in the civics curriculum being pushed by the head of the ministry's pedagogical secretariat, Zvi Zameret.

Stern is a law professor at Bar-Ilan University, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute and a former candidate for attorney general. He was appointed to chair the panel - which includes academics, teachers and ministry staffers - in February 2009.

Navot is also a law professor, at the College of Management.

Stern opened his blistering letter by saying it was written "out of a feeling of deep concern for the future of civics studies." He then charged that his committee had been pressured "to change the content, essence and goals" of the curriculum.

Specifically, he said, Zameret wanted "about half the study time" to be devoted to Israeli and Zionist history - an idea the panel rejected.

Moreover, he wrote, the committee is "in the final stages of finishing an updated high school [civics] curriculum. A dramatic replacement of the members who were involved in preparing the curriculum before its final approval is, to say the least, bizarre."

The only logical conclusion, he continued, is that the ministry wants to replace the panel's members with people more amenable to Zameret's ideas.

The election of a new government, Stern wrote, "must not be allowed to dictate course curricula." And if the ministry doesn't back its advisory panels, he warned, only political hacks will agree to serve on them.

Various sources noted that other advisory committee chairmen have served more than two years.

Zameret, who was appointed by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, recently cut the number of hours allotted to civics. He also decided to rewrite a key civics textbook because it contained "too much criticism of the state" and made students think "everything is awful," panel members said.

Zameret "doesn't want critical thinking, only a depiction of the actual situation," charged one.