Critic Slams 'More Zionist' Civics Textbook, Says It Will Alienate Arabs

A civics education lecturer at the University of Haifa resigned from the Education Ministry's civics committee this week to protest a government plan to revise a widely used textbook because a ministry official said it is overly critical of Israel.

"I decided to resign from the committee as a form of protest, and also because I did not have any influence," Dr. Ayman Agbaria told Haaretz yesterday. "I was allowed to speak, but I was unable to bring about significant change. And so there was no point in remaining on the committee."

Dr. Ayman Agbaria (L) and Dr. Zvi Zameret
Itzik Ben Malki and Daniel Bar-On

In comments geared toward Zvi Zameret, the chairman of the ministry's pedagogical secretariat, Agbaria wrote in his resignation letter Monday that the changes Zameret seeks will sabotage efforts give Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel a shared civic culture.

"If your attempt to update the curriculum in these directions succeeds, it will increase the alienation of teachers and students from the subject of civics," Agbaria wrote. "Furthermore, forcing the Zionist historical narrative on Arab students and teachers excludes the Arab minority, and undermines attempts to realize a shared civic culture in the country."

Zameret has ordered a revision of the country's primary civics textbook, "Lihyot Ezrahim Beyisrael" ("To Be Citizens in Israel" ). A source who participated in a committee meeting held Thursday to discuss the issue said Zameret sees the book as focusing "too much on criticism of the state" and causing students "to feel that everything is bad."

Zameret previously criticized the textbook for saying that "the State of Israel has engaged in a policy of discrimination against its Arab citizens since its establishment," and has said he wants the book to devote space to the establishment of the state.

The Education Ministry said Agbaria should not have gone public with his protest.

"Dr. Agbaria should have requested a private meeting with the chairman of the pedagogical secretariat, in order to clarify his arguments, and make his decision afterwards," the ministry said in a statement. "Instead, he chose to publicize his letter of resignation."

Agbaria said the curricular changes Zameret "is trying to dictate are being made in the absence of proper deliberations and public transparency, while at the same time marginalizing the committee. His direct interference in the committee meeting in order to make these changes, added to the pressure from the Knesset Education Committee in the wake of the report by the Institute for Zionist Strategies, does harm to the committee's work and its independence."

The institute recently issued a report saying the sociology departments of Israeli universities are being overrun by post-Zionists.

"It appears that your desire to 'rewrite' the program is an expression of your disturbing political and educational outlook, an outlook that annuls and uproots any attempt to challenge the meaning and limits of the nature of the state, and finds the presentation of controversy over the definition of the state subversive," Agbaria wrote.

The civics committee is composed of educators and ministry officials who are supposed to advise the Education Ministry on curriculum decisions.